Conservation is everyone's duty
It is called the tragedy of the commons, where individuals pursuing their own self-interest squander a shared resource even as this waste works against the public interest in the long-term. As the global population expands and governments attempt to husband increasingly scarce resources, facing up to this "tragedy" has become a common dilemma for every government. In our region, water-use is the clearest example of where we confront this squandering of shared resources. In our arid climate, massive inputs of energy are required to desalinate ocean water to provide sufficient supplies for all, making water waste all the more costly.
One way to limit waste is to make it illegal, as the government of Qatar has done with the introduction of Law 28 last month. Law enforcement officers in Qatar are now permitted to check any office or home to ensure that neither water nor electricity are being wasted, and are authorised to levy steep penalties. A family in Doha recently received a $2,700 fine for wasting water, showing just how serious Qatar has become in mandating conservation.
Hopefully, the UAE can develop an equally serious approach to resource management without cumbersome and intrusive checks on individual energy consumption. First and foremost, residents in the UAE should be made aware of what their energy and water consumption actually costs, both in economic and in environmental terms. It is widely known that the UAE has one of the largest carbon footprints of any nation in the world, but until individuals understand how their decisions contribute to such waste, they will be less likely to practise conservation. A disciplinary regime such as that in Qatar may well be necessary here, but before the UAE Government follows suit it should do everything in its power to educate and inform its residents of the costs of irresponsible behaviour.
The Green Dubai initiative, establishing benchmarks for environmentally-friendly building, and Abu Dhabi's efforts through Masdar, investing in renewable technologies - valuable as they are - represent only one aspect of the work required for our nation to build a sustainable future. The Government's efforts will be undermined unless conservation also becomes an individual enterprise.