The US cops a lot of flack for the sorry state of the world’s climate, but the Chinese ain’t far behind in terms of responsibility. One of them is embracing a cleaner future, and it may not be the one you think.
Before coming to the UAE I did four years teaching in the Taiwanese incarnation of the Gulag, after-school torture-chambers known as Anchinbans. In these sorry excuses for educational institutions, rows of little kids churn out reams of homework like prisoners breaking rocks and suffer, like inmates, a debilitating drain upon their spirits.
It was quit or suicide, so I chose to move on. The kids don’t have that option, and the statistics reflect that.
If the learning environment was toxic, the living environment wasn’t much better. Often, I commented on the beauty of the tobacco sunsets, the nightly fire-orange and pink extravaganzas which played a decisive part in a number of successful romantic encounters.
‘It’s the smog,’ I was told.
That made sense. On the way in from the airport I’d noticed the wilting freeway-side vegetation, which I’d put down to the abominable heat. But two years later I realised that ever since I’d been suffering a sore throat. Once, I turned side-on in the mirror to find my shoulders hunched and wondered if, perhaps, I was wilting too . . ..
Taiwanese people die from air poisoning. Taipei has the highest population density of any city but Dakha, and the industrial miracle of the last fifty years hasn’t happened simply by churning out dumplings and bubble tea in the Great Mall of Dubai. No, heavy industry and the people live cheek-to-jowl, lips-to-smokestack.
Leave a bowl of cereal out long enough and poisonous particles will settle on it like sugar crystals.
But the poisons ain’t all native. Each year, in a certain season, winds pick up Mongolian dust and distribute it across China. As the winds push south and east, they gather industrial sputum billowing up from the flammable-clothing and plastic-toy factories below and dump it up the Taiwanese nose.
The Taiwanese can’t take it anymore and, not surprisingly, neither can the Chinese.
Beijing experienced its first ever red alert for air quality last December. A red alert doesn’t just mean the air is hazardous. It’s far worse than that. Nor does the issuance of the first red alert mean the air had been that bad for the first time. Rather, it was merely the first time the government had been prepared to admit it.
Implicit with the red alert was the recognition that the time had come to do something.
They’re already at it. The Chinese lead the world in installation of wind energy, adding 29 GW of wind capacity in 2015 after installing 21 GW the year before. The figure accounts for forty-six percent of all wind power installed globally.
The next best country is the US, which installed 8.6 GW—a long way behind and, sadly, receding. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the twenty-seven states opposed to the Clean Power Plan are celebrating their freedom to poison their air as successfully as Beijing has its, just as that economic rival is heading full tilt in the opposite direction.
Of course, for the Chinese it ain’t necessarily about doing right. It used to be said that wherever you find an opportunity to make money, you’ll find an American. But nowadays that Yank will be queuing up behind a couple of Chinese.
It’s about moolah. Lots of it. Enormous, hierarchy-altering piles of it.
The winds of change are blowing in more directions than one.
In the UAE, the race is on to reduce economic dependency upon oil. Recognition has come that the desert nation possesses another resource in even greater abundance than the black stuff.
My mum had itchy feet. The moment each seven-year stretch was up, we’d hobble off to pastures new. Her timing coincided neatly with Dad’s realisations of outdoor furniture and the maturation of his apple trees. Just as the fruit ripened, Mum would pull the plug.
I believe he enjoyed the suffering this entailed. Presumably, the new owners enjoyed the apples.
For us boys, the trauma was less redeeming. A child torn from all they know will respond well enough given explanations of the upside and a long enough lead-in—and I should know, having inflicted it myself. But parenting in those days lacked a certain quality, something called compassion, considered desirable of late.
Even so, each uprooting had its positives. One move befell us while I was transitioning in more ways than one, putting away childish things, exchanging the world of boys for the world of adolescents—a process I hope to complete before my eightieth.
I was clearing a closet when I came across an old pencil case, a sharp-edged wooden blockhouse of a thing. Inside was a forgotten toy, a ball of chewed gum and, low and behold, ten dollars I had long before stashed away for safekeeping.
In all my endeavors, I have never been as wildly successful as I was in this. Hoooowee!
It made me feel like a lottery winner, sparking dreams of a summer of snacks—great bags of mixed sweets, baths of Smarties, swimming pools of fried chicken into which one might bellyflop. In those days, ten bucks meant potential unlimited.
Last week I felt much the same when I came across a series of articles about renewable energy in the UAE.
At first glance it appears counter-intuitive that the UAE would move to divest itself from fossil fuels in favor of renewable technologies, especially with oil at thirty dollars a barrel. But it’s happening.
The motive is not so much the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but the meeting of domestic energy demands which are swallowing a growing share of oil production. For the future of the UAE, it is better to export oil than burn it. But the country has to get its energy from somewhere. The question is, where?
The answer is outside Dubai. DEWA’s Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is a landmark project for the nation. The first 13MW stage is doing well enough, but the second stage has the makings of something truly special, having ignited international discussion and excitement around the cost competitiveness of utility-scale solar.
Initially, the winning bid of under six US cents per kilowatt hour met with skepticism. But since then the project has been fully financed, doubled in size to 200MW and the price (almost) repeated elsewhere in the Middle East and the US. The extraordinarily low cost has made competition extremely tough among tenders to build the final 800MW phase.
Sometime between now and the achievement of Dubai’s long term renewable energy targets, coal will be left for dead. With the cost of panels falling ten percent per year since the 1980s and a whole host of governments including India, France and the US pushing a renewable agenda, it looks increasingly like the future is solar.
In the UAE, where sun is plentiful, to say the least, it makes sense to let this inexhaustible resource work as hard for the nation’s goals as does oil.