Because of its desert climate and high level of imported resources, the UAE has one of the highest per capita ecological footprints in the world, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Living Planet Report. It’s hardly surprising, given that we crank up the air conditioners to keep our homes, schools and offices cool (often cooler than we need) and that much of the food we eat and the goods we buy are shipped in from overseas. And just think of all the energy we use in desalination plants to make sure we have plenty of clean water to drink – phew!
‘We are consuming more natural resources than the planet can regenerate,’ says Tanzeed Alam, Policy Director at the Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF. ‘If we keep using them without care or responsibility, there can be only one conclusion: one day they will run out. This is not the legacy we want to leave for future generations.’
It’s not only the fault of big businesses like energy and construction companies, though. Alam says that households account for 57 per cent of the overall burden. Our editor was astounded – and ashamed – to discover that if everyone consumed as much electricity as her family, we would require 1.6 times more than the world’s current resources. (Check your household carbon footprint calendar at www.heroesoftheuae.com).
‘We all have an important role to play to help tackle this enormous carbon footprint,’ Alam says. ‘The temperature of our planet is rising, which is leading to more chaotic weather patterns – and the UAE is not immune from that. It’s already hot, but scientists predict that temperatures could rise by five degrees by the end of the century and by two or three degrees by 2050.’ It may not sound much but the impact on the planet – and the way we live – could be devastating. ‘Our water resources will be put under more stress and the unique, critically-endangered wildlife we have in the UAE will be even more threatened. Sea levels will rise and, given that the major UAE cities are on the coast, this will affect us all. It’s in all our interests to act early. Kids are going to grow up, have their own families and the planet could be a very different place from what we live in now.’
So what can we do about it? Alam reckons even the small stuff can make a huge difference. ‘We’re not saying ‘stop using this or that’ – it’s about how to live our current lives in a more conscious way. Whether you’re a kid, a CEO or a housewife, we can all take action. Saving money and reducing carbon footprint can be done through minimal investment and effort.’
Top planet-saving tips
It’s cool to be a little warmer In the UAE, air conditioning uses more electricity than any other household appliance and accounts for the bulk of the carbon footprint. Try setting the thermostat a degree or two higher – it should be no lower than 24 degrees – at which level you’ll actually be more comfortable, not less.
Ban the bath Water heaters use a lot of energy. Opt for a quick shower rather than a soak in the tub and remember that, during summer, you probably won’t need to use the water heater at all.
Bright ideas Use energy-saving lightbulbs – they use much less energy and last up to 10 times longer. And remember to switch lights off when you leave the room.
Make the switch Leaving the computer, TV and stereo on standby overnight uses almost as much electricity as when the machines are switched on. Switch them off!
Tap turns When washing or brushing your teeth, turn off the tap when you’re not actually using the water, and make sure it’s not dripping.
Flush with success Pop a water-saver in the toilet tank (a brick or a bottle filled with sand works well) – it will make a big difference to the amount of water that gets used when flushing.
www.beatiwatani.com Meaning ‘My environment, my country’ the Be’ati Watani site is a great online learning module for kids aged six to 14 years. With sections on wildlife, water, waste and global warming, it explains the issues and offers solutions through fun games and tasks.
www.dewa.com The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority has a whole community section which includes conservation tips, and home safety advice.
www.heroesoftheuae.com Fascinating eco facts, tips and resources for kids, homes, schools and businesses.