Environmentalism in Abu Dhabi

Solar panels in Masdar City
The Color Purple 2023

“…One does NOT speak out against anything the Sheik says. It’s a good thing he cares deeply about the environment.”

Tammy Thompson was a former teacher at my high school in Stockton, CA. Her husband is an airline pilot for Etihad Airways, and so they moved to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In this Q&A session, she talks about environmentalism in the UAE and the efforts that are being made to protect the environment there.

1. How do you personally perceive the environment? What types of environmental efforts, if any, do you make on a daily basis?

I think we are in crisis of epic proportions. Global warming has changed the climate, driving temperatures unnaturally up in areas and down in others. It’s melting the glaciers and causing animals to become extinct. I am very concerned about it and dread the life that my future grandchildren will face. I recycle as I can here, I am careful with my water usage. We only have one car to save on our carbon footprint. When I go to Dubai, I park my car and take the metro.

2. How do people in the UAE perceive the environment? Do they seem generally concerned about protecting it, or not care about it? What about some of the other countries that you’ve visited?

Solar panels in Masdar City. "PS10 solar power tower" by afloresm - SOLUCAR PS10.
Solar panels in Masdar City. “PS10 solar power tower” by afloresm – SOLUCAR PS10.

The country as a whole tries to be as green as possible. By the Abu Dhabi airport is Masdar City, the greenest city in the world. The Emiratis are using it as a model and hoping to adapt the technologies into all of their cities. I don’t think the link is working, but visit it. The UAE uses desalinated [sic] water, so that is what comes out of our taps. For drinking water, we buy large 5 gallon bottles. Last winter, the government spend around 3 million dollars seeding the clouds for rain and it worked. I believe it rained like 31 days and usually it only rains 7 days.

Electric energy is carefully “used”. Like at the malls in the parking structures, and in our building parking structure, very few lights are used, just enough to be able to see. Energy is definitely conserved here.

In regard to other countries, I’m not usually in them long enough to get a real feel of their environmental practices. I do know that Europe, in general, seems to care more about the environment than the U.S., Switzerland in particular. China was the worst, in Beijing, the air tasted like diesel. Too many people, too many cars and motorcycles without air filters, too many factories. Here is a picture in a small town called Lashon. It is not foggy, the air is filled with waste from all the factories.

Air pollution
Photo by Tammy Thompson

My eyes burned and it was very hard to breathe. I see why the people wear masks there. The only reason I was in this city was to visit this giant Buddha. I stayed long enough to climb all over him and then left for cleaner air.

Giant Buddha statue
Photo by Tammy Thompson

3. In your time living in the UAE, have you noticed any particular trends in the population there when it comes to the environment? For example, here in the US, as you know, there is the “green movement”.

"Masdar PRT (1)" by Jan Seifert -
An electric car drives you to Masdar City. “Masdar PRT (1)” by Jan Seifert -

The problem with trends is that they go away. In the UAE, energy conservation is a way of life. The Sheik of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed built the metro to save energy, i.e. gas. The city of Dubai was actually built because the Sheiks know that the oil will run out eventually. They built Dubai to attract tourists, and it has worked. Most of the world’s oil comes from the UAE and the Sheiks know that the oil will not sustain them forever, they believe the oil will run out in 30 years, so they have built green communities. The successful technology they get from Masdar City will be shared throughout the country. My husband and I have been to Masdar a couple of times, it’s pretty cool. You park in the parking lot and get into an automatic electric car and it drives you into the city. Look at my videos, I have a video of it.

In the UAE, there is a two-flush system on the toilets
Photo by Tammy Thompson

Edit: One last thing, all of the toilets here have two flush options, a full flush and half flush, you can figure it out. The toilets are different here. The flush thing is in the wall or on the top of the tank, no handles. The pic shows your two options, for the full flush you push the bigger button thing and for the half flush, you push the little button. This, of course is to conserve water (even though there is limitless salt water out there).

4. Is the environment talked about in political discourse at all? If so, are people as divided about it as they are here in the US?

The UAE is basically a kingdom so there is not a possibility for the people to have an opposing opinion. What the Sheiks say and does is the law, one does NOT speak out against anything the Sheik says. It’s a good thing he cares deeply about the environment.


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