National Geographic : 2017 Oct
Dubai’s auDacious goal 69 Perhaps the greatest reason for hope is that environmental imperatives are coming into line with Dubai’s economic ones. It’s not just that solar energy is cheap. Dubai is pivoting now, says Rostock, because it has to—because it’s compet- ing with other cities for business and people, and sustainability is in. “ What we have is a willing- ness and a push to change Dubai and how it’s perceived,” Rostock says. But this city has no intention of slowing down. On a wall in Lootah’s office, a framed series of aerial pictures shows how Dubai has evolved since 1935, when it was an impoverished fishing village. At the center is a visualization of the future: It shows a coast even more clogged with artificial islands than it is today. Dubai’s population is on track to double to more than five million by 2030. The city lives off its expanding footprint: Nearly a quarter of the population works in construction. The choke point, if one comes, will be water rather than energy. A shallow, almost closed sea, the Persian Gulf is already up to 20 percent saltier than the ocean, and it’s getting saltier: Dams in Turkey and Iraq are diverting freshwater, climate change is increasing evaporation—while making Dubai even hotter—and desalination plants are dumping hot brine. In time the water will become ever harder to desalinate and perhaps too salty to support a lot of the marine life that once support- ed Dubai. “ We still feel we can cope,” says Lootah. With technology, “everything is possible.” With enough solar power even guilt-free indoor skiing becomes possible—and with cli- mate change, Dubai may need the respite. In the summer, people already go outside as little as possible. By 2100 there may be days so hot and humid that going outside could kill you. Should this city even be here? I put the question to Alam. “ That’s the wrong question,” he says. “It’s more about accepting where we are today and how do we make that better. It’s a question of the right to develop and of human beings’ right for a better future. How do we make cities better?” j opposition to projects endorsed by the Ruler. During the boom years this system produced Dubai’s headlong expansion and misbegotten projects like the World, an archipelago of 300 artificial islands (shaped like countries) that remain largely uninhabited. But it also produced the Dubai Metro, a smashing success built in less than a decade and opened at the height of the financial crisis. Projects like that give sustainabil- ity mavens hope. “ This country has developed so quickly,” says Tanzeed Alam, of the Emirates Wildlife Society. “It can change quickly too— because the leadership gets behind it.” Senior environment editor Robert Kunzig and photog- rapher Luca Locatelli covered Germany’s renewable energy revolution in our November 2015 issue.