Don’t Be Stupid

Those of you following me on Twitter have probably noticed that I was in Lebanon for a few days last week. I was participating in a media workshop on climate change organized by the League of Independent Activist aka IndyACT. The venue of the workshop was the MFDCL hostel and training center, located in a pristine, small forest in the quaint village of Ramlieh in the Aley District, Mount Lebanon, at an altitude of 800 m. It was a bit of a hassle to get there, but I was glad they chose this place, 40 Km away from Beirut and its tourists and humidity.

The goal of the workshop was to instill a sense of urgency over climate change, which has become a serious threat to humanity. That’s why the climate change summit that will take place in Copenhagen later this year possess a great significance. Officials from 192 countries will try to agree a new climate treaty as a successor to the Kyoto protocol. If no agreement is reached, life on earth will not be as we once knew it. Small, beautiful islands like the Maldives would simply disappear:

Environmental issues have never attracted enough attention in Saudi Arabia. Such issues do not seem like a priority for the government (what are their priorities, btw?) and the lack of a civil society mean that taking care of the environment is left to non-institutionalized, individual efforts. It is true that we as citizens should contribute as much as we can, but the challenge we face today calls for action on larger scale.

As the world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia must act responsibly and play a a constructive role in protecting the environment, but the fact that our economy is dependent on oil has made the government take a negative stance on the necessity of reducing greenhouse gases emissions. And it’s not only economics, it’s also about political influence that comes with oil. This stance is also shared by other oil producing countries like Kuwait. When asked how much of financial aid would it take for them to change their environmental policies, a Kuwaiti official explicitly said it’s not about the money.

Some environmental activists suggest that Qatar can work to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia here, but I really doubt that Qatar would sacrifice their recently improved relations with the big neighbour over an issue like climate change (shocking, I know). So counting on Qatar seems like wishful thinking to me.

The Saudi stance does not strike me as the result of ignorance or denial, but rather stems from underestimating how urgent the issue of climate change is. The government is also well aware that oil will not last forever, and they know it is not wise to be overdependent on its revenues in a volatile energy market. They are already moving in the direction of diversifying their economy by investing in different sectors and industries.

Saving the world is a very noble goal, but sadly it is not enough of a reason to convince countries to change their greedy policies. To win this battle you need to convince them what’s good for them in it. The Saudi attitude here reminds me of the US attitude. It took the US a change of administration to change their position. I don’t know what would it take to change the Saudi position.

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14 thoughts on “Don’t Be Stupid

  1. Welcome back Ahmad,

    Nice issue to talk about, and it takes a lot of explanations to understand which countries and what industries were responsible the most for the climate change.

    These are important stuff to actually know the problem, but, they not what matter now, it goes down to the need to immediate change of courses to protect our Planet Earth.

    Its clear that China, US and EU still topping the list of worse countries in carbon dioxide emissions, Saudi is high in the list, but its not among the top ten.

    Still they keep telling us that Saudi is top fossil fuel exporters, which I believe for the west, is another way to evade responsibility, and to make money out of the taxes, and to create a secondary market for carbon dioxide emission trades, which a lot of people think its rub***.

    Most clean energy technologies are either inefficient enough, or depend on government support to actually make business sense.

    Governments, all of them, can do more, such build attractive, environment friendly public transportation, encourage people to reduce energy over consumption, enhance building standards to reduce green house emissions and many more, and that what need more work.

    but, will you take higher costs for car fuel, house electricity, airways tickets, water, and many more? some wouldn’t.

    Thanks again, and welcome back from your trip to Lebanon.

  2. Clearly, the environment is a large problem.

    It is a problem that our country, as a major producer of hydrocarbons, must face as a responsibility.

    It is equally a problem that the West, as the major consumer of hydrocarbons, must assume as a responsibility.

    However, one must also ask whether our clerical establishment, some of whom remain unconvinced as to basic facts contained within science, are realistically prepared for any such responsibility.

    For a change of this major type would seriously threaten their economic power.

    As such, they would likely invent some reason why any change is religiously unacceptable.

  3. It is interesting to watch how each country weasels around their commitment to climate change, meeting the obligations they have signed on for, or finding an excuse not to sign on to the Kyoto or similar protocols.

    All of these do seem feeble in the face of real, scientifically proven negative effects to human health, let alone other aspects of the ecosystem and the planetary distribution of land/ water.

    Canada seemingly has made commitments yet still performs poorly on pollution indices. The US of course leads by negative example. China and India seem to wish not to learn from the mistakes of long industrialized nations, but rather to repeat them in an already more vulnerable planet.

    I grew up in one of Canada’s industrialized cities and visited China from there. The amount of unchecked air and water pollution was staggering and noticeable in sooty tears (from grimy contact lenses), blackened nasal discharge, etc. More recently the acid rain cloud almost permanently hovering over Hong Kong and descending from the North proves it has only gotten worse with increased industrialization.

    Saudi Arabia as the 4th largest exporter of oil to the US (the world’s biggest importer) should step up fast to preserve its own oil income and diversify its economy.

    In other countries existing governments change their own attitudes, and a change in the Minister of the Environment or Secretary of the Environment often heralds an effective change in attitude, and a real commitment.

    Since Allah created the earth, made humans its custodian (as it is for their use), and encouraged humans to acquire knowledge about natural law, and science, then religious leaders could choose to support environmental protection.

    The issue seems to come back to free choice/ will, also granted to humans by Allah.

  4. When it comes to global warming we have to distinguish between the international and the national position of Saudi Arabia.
    As Anees wrote “they keep telling us that Saudi is top fossil fuel exporters, which I believe for the west, is another way to evade responsibility, and to make money out of the taxes, and to create a secondary market for carbon dioxide emission trades, which a lot of people think its rub***” The tax issue is the stumbling block due to the fact that coal is the biggest polluter and it isn’t being taxed.
    We could easily make fossil fuel emissions cleaner. We could even almost neutralize it. But it is a very expensive process that no one wants to pay for!
    In the national front,. Saudi Arabia was the second country in the world to ban diesel sedans from entering the country. That was thirty years ago.
    Jubail and Yenbu are the second best examples of the effort of the government to maintain a clean and healthy environment.
    Laws and regulations are in the book. Environmental agencies have been created and are functioning. But very little is implemented and followed, if at all.
    Unfortunately the buck did stop here for a very long time. Now it is moving again. Out of sheer necessity.

    P.S. Dear Ahmed,
    The government priorities are outlined every year in the Royal address of the King to the consultative council.
    If you need a copy, I’ll gladly send one to you :)

  5. Saudi Aspire–I enjoyed your comment and the distinction between Saudi’s national and international approaches to pollution.

    Canada is the top exporter of oil, and has the largest reserves. Yet our gasoline prices rise with everyone elses and gas taxes are a major source of government income, as Anees pointed out. The US and our own government want us to believe that this is not because of our NAFTA obligations to sell to the US (most of their imported oil by far comes from Canada, Saudi is 4th), despite our obligations to also provide them with electricity and water whether our needs are met or not. And Obama intones that “Buy American” policies won’t harm Canada’s trade with its biggest trading partner.Hmmmm.

    I do still think that the global environmental issues are the responsiblity of all countries; and, pointing fingers at others, or hiding in denial (Reagan and acid rain, and the polluted shared St Lawrence Seaway, indicate some of the history of this type of behaviour) serves no useful purpose long term, even to those who think selfishly short term.

    Puca–thanks for the film reference. It is done by respected filmmakers, and is expected to have an impact on the upcoming elections. It was released simultaneously in cinemas, on television, as a DVD, and on youtube:

    In Arabic:

    In English

    In French:

    In Spanish

    Also available in German (DE) and Russian.

  6. What I had read from scientists that even if we stopped the whole carbon emission, we won’t be able to stop catastrophe that might strongly happen within our lifetime. My small wish for my country that I hope the religious leader take a stand on this and forget about chasing women to put cover on them ,just for a little while

  7. “It is interesting to watch how each country weasels around their commitment to climate change, meeting the obligations they have signed on for, or finding an excuse not to sign on to the Kyoto or similar protocols…the US of course leads by negative example.”

    Does it? The U.S. refused to ratify Kyoto because it knew that whether or not global warming was real, the goals of the Kyoto protocols could not be met, and that most of the participants were not serious about doing so. For that, the U.S. was vilified.

    Years later, you now know that to be the case, so why do you still believe the U.S. sets a negative example?

  8. Because it has for years. Because it was slower than Canada, for example, to clean the Great Lakes, and St Lawrence Seaway, which we co-manage. Given that the water flows freely across the international boundary that goes through the the middle of these bodies of water we both suffer the effects.

    Because it was slower than Canada, for example, to cut air pollution in the industrialized Northeast, which also doesn’t stop at the international border.

    The US was vilified for not ratifying the Kyoto Protocol because it was the world’s major polluter and wouldn’t sign because of economic, not environmental, concerns. As a world leader in so many domains the failure to sign was of major symbolic and real significance. The government also actively denied both global warming and major pollution.

    In both of my main comments I specifically stated that it does no good to point fingers at other countries, and would help if we each cleaned up our corner of the universe and led by example. I also pointed out Canada’s failure to follow through, which coincided with Stephen Harper’s GWB style philosophy and governance, and being from Alberta, his protection of the gas and oil industries above all else.

    So I don’t think I’ve been unduly critical of the US.

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