"What is global warming?" my little brother asked me the other day, looking more concerned than an 11-year-old should. After I tried to explain climate change to him with a few doodles, his panicked expression seemed to grow.
I managed to calm him down and to explain that global warming was not going to cause an apocalypse - not yet, anyway - and that we can all help by doing our part to mitigate its effects.
Going green seems daunting to some people because they think they need to radically change their lifestyle. I've found that some slight modification is all that's necessary. I've made it habit to recycle, turn off lights and electronics, not leave electronic devices plugged in when I'm not using them, walk or bike instead of driving, and take shopping bags with me when I go get groceries instead of adding to the never-ending build-up of plastic bags that most households seem to foster.
These are all small steps, but education and having the right mindset go a long way.
Recycling is easy to adopt into everyday life. In college we always had recycle bins and I was fortunate enough to live with people who practised this habit diligently, so it rubbed off on me and I've taken it with me off campus. While I've noticed a lot of initiative in Abu Dhabi the past few years, people need to take action to ensure the apartment block or street they live on has a system for recycling. But it's not enough to know what can and can't be recycled; we also need to know what "greener" alternatives there are to products we are used to buying.
Being more environmentally conscious starts with your local environment. Whether it's enjoying the park, growing a garden in the backyard, or tending to plants on the windowsill, interacting with nature at any level helps us appreciate it. As we become increasingly sedentary and dependent on machines, it's easy to become more concerned with when Apple will release the iPad 3 than with the state of the rainforest.
While the climate in Abu Dhabi isn't always conducive to being outdoors, in the cooler months biking is a viable option. In New York over the past two years bike lanes have been added to major streets downtown close to where I live. Like in many European cities, bike rental stations (where you rent a bike for a nominal fee and drive it to another station and drop it off) could lessen taxi use. That not only cuts down on pollution but also is a healthy form of exercise.
The Earth's climate has always fluctuated, so even while global warming is probably connected to our mindless emission of greenhouse gases, it doesn't mean that we cannot adapt to its effects while we continue to develop technology for greener sources of energy.
As we modernise our cities and become more dependent on technology to make our lives easier, we need to be doing so in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. As our computers keep us functional, our trees allow us to breathe and provide an increased quality of life. It is not "natural" for us to be trapped between skyscrapers and computer screens.
Equipped with a positive and correct mindset we can all start to "go green" without feeling like it is a burden.
Fatima al Shamsi is an Emirati based in New York. She has a bachelor's degree in environmental science and human rights from Columbia University.