View of part of the Fujairah Corniche and the Hajar Mountains in the Background

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dubai in the Dark

The lights went off in Dubai on March 29, 2008. It was only 60 minutes in the dark but this was a big move for a city that wants to be seen as the brightest and glitziest on the planet.

The iconic Burj al-Arab, the only seven star hotel in the world, with its sail-like architecture, was leading the way in the worldwide Earth Hour blackout. Many other Dubai businesses, shopping malls and municipalities were flicking the switch or dimming the lights.

Interestingly, the Dubai Racing Club was bang smack in the middle of its biggest carnival of the year and the organizers were not prepared to have their 55,000 race goers and their millions of television viewers watching the ‘richest horse race in the world’ in pitch darkness.

Linking With the World
The Earth Hour each year is taking on greater importance in the United Arab Emirates. It is an opportunity for this vibrant nation to demonstrate leadership and show itself as a key player on the world stage at a time when many Arab nations have given such global events a miss.

Highest Energy Consumer
The UAE has changed from being a desert country with a few fishing villages to a rich nation in only a few decades. During this expansion it has built skyscrapers and business towers in a gung-ho manner and has been blind to the growth of pollution and the environmental cost of its rapid development. The huge Mall of the Emirates where one can ski down the indoor snow slopes while outdoors it feels like a furnace is symbolic of the high energy consumption of Dubai’s development. Because this country is home to some of the richest oil reserves in the world it has tended to be complacent about burning barrels of oil in its own backyard.

World Record in Consumption
Unfortunately, this record-breaking country that is aiming to have the world’s tallest building, the richest marathon and the best in every other field, now has the dubious reputation of having the world’s largest ‘global footprint’.

In a country that has scored a FAIL on its Report Card on ‘Caring for the Environment’, with its high energy consumption and inadequate waste management, turning off the switches during Earth Hour has been an opportunity to help the world notice that the UAE has seen the light.

Witnesses in the Light
News of the ‘switch off’ in Dubai and the UAE has provoked lots of conversation, most of it expressed in a positive light.

People from the Emirates have been overwhelmingly supportive saying Dubai’s participation was a good thing and that the UAE is setting a good example for the other Middle Eastern cities to follow next year.

A Sydney writer has wondered whether Dubai’s involvement was just a publicity stunt. A Malaysian writer has said the genuineness of this UAE commitment will be whether the reduction of energy consumption continues as an ongoing attitude and action. Last’s night ‘switch off’ gives to environmentalists in the Emirates a lever with UAE businesses and municipalities in the future by which they can challenge them asking, “Were you really serious about caring for the environment, that dark night at the end of March 2008?”

Kolkata Commentator Takes the Cake
A Kolkata resident joined the conversation about the UAE Earth Hour by saying, “A very interesting thing to know is that the light is switched off for longer than one hour a year in India. Sadly, this ‘switch off’ is for hours in the form of power cuts and I beg the Electric Board to do something about it.”

It is good to be living in a country were you can choose to turn the power off. Sadly the vast majority of the world has the power turned off for them and not at the ordained hour. This is an important angle to think about when you are sitting in the dark.

Dr. Geoff Pound

Image: “The iconic Burj al-Arab… was leading the way.” This picture of the seven star hotel lit up gives an idea as to how many lights needed to be turned off and how much power was saved.