7 Years Left
With climate change and sustainability increasingly becoming a hot-topic for travel journalists, it was only a matter of time until I looked into it myself…
In primary school, ‘Reduce, Re-use, Recycle’ was the tagline they had us deeply internalise about how to help reduce increasing landfill waste. Moving up to secondary school, I vaguely remember learning about the damaging effects of deforestation in Geography, as well as the limitations of fossil fuels and the varying amounts of renewable energy sources that were taught to me in GCSE Science lessons. As I got older, sustainability and eco-tourism took up a substantial part of my teachings during Travel and Tourism A-Level. So, looking back, climate change and global warming have always been issues that I’ve been aware of to some extent. But in the ignorant bliss of pre-adulthood, I’d always felt as though these were issues that would never have an effect during my lifetime.
As I’ve grown older (and hopefully somewhat wiser), it appears to me that these issues are no longer just issues we read in books or see on the TV. At the end of 2019, scientists announced that the damage that climate change is having on the Earth, will become irreversible in a limited amount of years. The Earth’s deadline is viewable from the digital clock display that’s taken centre stage in the city of Manhattan, counting down the years, days, hours, minutes and seconds until this point — from when I’m writing, the time left reads at 7 years, 8 days, 5 hours, 11 minutes and 50 seconds. From this, the realisation of the potential catastrophes that global warming will have on us, has seen sustainability become the forefront of ordinary people’s conversations, big-boy corporations’ projections and travel journalists’ focus.
It’s a common assumption that fossil fuels and their damaging effect on the atmosphere are the main contributors to global warming. Available on Spotify, Myles Allen draws attention to the process of decarbonisation, which can strip fossil fuels of their carbon emissions and place the element back underground. Whilst the re-planting of trees can slow down the process of global warming, his TED talk claims that by decarbonising fossil fuels, global warming will essentially draw to a halt. However, the issue lies with lack of adequate funding — fossil fuel companies have known this information for years but don’t have the financial resources to do anything about it. It could be argued that, with fossil fuels predicted to run out by 2060, that maybe fossil fuel companies don’t see much point in investing in something which is already declining in availability. As populations continue to grow across the globe, there’s no doubt that the fossil fuel consumption will continue to grow, potentially seeing oil and gas resources running out even earlier than what has been predicted.
The Netflix documentary released earlier this year, ‘David Attenborough: A Life on our planet,’ can be described as the natural historians’ witness statement on the damage that we’ve placed on our eco-system and the future implications of this. Most shockingly, he speaks about the fourth mass extinction that’s been predicted by scientists to take place within the next 100 years. During the latter half of the programme, he optimistically offers ways in which we can try and mend the planet — the main point being, that cutting out fossil fuels and switching towards renewable energy resources is a main contributor in doing this. In an ideal world, if we completely convert to renewable natural resources within the next 50 years, energy supplies will be cheaper, cities will be cleaner and most importantly, the energy supply will never run out.
Although 2020 is set out to be one of the hottest years on record, one of the few silver linings of the pandemic and new travel ban, is the potential environmental benefits this could have on our eco-system. According to CNBC, the COVID-19 restrictions triggered global greenhouse gas emissions to drop by 2.4 million tons this year, a 7% drop from 2019 and the largest decline on record. As well as this, a recent article published by Travel + Leisure earlier this week, reported on pink dolphins returning to waters between Hong Kong and Macau due to lower ferry traffic in the cities. Although 2020 can be considered as an exceptional circumstance, it’s refreshing to see that recovery is somewhat possible.
However, The National Geographic warns that despite daily emissions being about 17% below the average, this will likely have little impact on the overall CO2 concentration in the atmosphere — and it’s this concentration which matters the most for climate change. Additionally, with the world looking like it’s going to return to some form of normality within the next year, researchers claim that emissions will likely see a rebound in 2021. Further urging governments to prioritize a shift towards clean energy and policies. Industries such as the travel industry have already seen a priority alteration towards sustainability and sustainable practices in rebuilding tourism next year.
Being a tourist destination based around consumerism; an international hub for stop-overs and air travel; and high-rise buildings being engineered on a daily basis, it’s no wonder that the UAE isn’t a location that quickly springs to mind when you consider sustainability. Much like other parts of the Middle East, the UAE is historically known for its rich resources and associations with the oil industry. On average, the country produces 2.9 million barrels of oil a day, so you’d think it was one of the main offenders when it comes to carbon emissions. In fact, in 2018 it wasn’t even in the top 20 countries for emissions of CO2. Yet I’m not going to shift the blame of global warming, and to label the UAE as innocent in its contribution would see me reverting back to the ignorant bliss that I referred to previously.
With summer temperatures reaching as high as 52°c, it’s no surprise that 70% of the UAE’s energy consumption is destined for cooling. Meaning that, one of the key sustainability issues here is that large energy consumption is needed to ensure comfortable living for its residents, as taken from an article in Gulf News. Unlike other air-conditioning systems which refrigerate single properties, some parts of the UAE have established communal cooling plants located near highly populated residential areas. Through communally air-conditioning large communities through a singular resource, the plants in place can both optimize energy supply and help reduce waste.
With unlimited access to sunlight, renewable sources of energy here aren’t exactly what you’d call sparse. Furthermore, articles from Gulf News read that last year Abu Dhabi switched on the world’s largest single site solar project. Ultimately, seeing the cities CO2 emissions reduce by 1 million metric tons — the equivalent of taking 200,000 cars off the road. As well as this, the government have also placed a large focus on improving water resources, as well as working towards a long-term goal of electrification to reduce fuel consumption.
There’s still a lot to be done when it comes to fixing our broken planet. We’ve come as far as identifying the issues, as well as the practical solutions to resolve them, but now it’s a matter of carrying these things out on a large scale. It’s promising to see that a global hub like the UAE, is starting to lead the way in sustainable practices and policies to a certain extent. And on from this, travel journalists are increasingly reporting about the recent buzz that is sustainability, meaning that more and more information will be at our disposal.
Finally, we are all capable of making small conscious changes to help contribute to the bigger picture, whether this be buying a reusable water bottle or going vegan one day a week. The bigger picture in question being the 7 years, 8 days, 4 hours, 46 minutes and 32 seconds left.