An Environmentalist Living In...Qatar?


It’s hard to be an environmentalist in Qatar. Qatar lacks abundant greenery and has a huge carbon footprint, yet doesn’t have a significant economic incentive to shift towards sustainability. But don’t give up hope- environmentalists are needed more than ever!


I’m an environmentalist living in Doha, Qatar.

If you’re not shocked by that statement, here’s why you should be:

Qatar is a country filled with sweeping sand dunes and deserts. Temperatures can reach up to 120° F in the summer, and usually it rains no more than 3 days a year (with average annual precipitation at 74mm or 2.9in according to the World Bank). The little soil there is in Qatar has extremely low nutrient levels. Most of the nation’s greenery consists of dusty palm trees and flowers planted in highway medians. Thus, it’s not surprising that Qatar imports a whopping 92% of its food products (Business Quarter Magazine), often from the United Kingdom, United States, France, or other countries outside of the Middle East. Not only is this lack of agricultural self-sufficiency economically unsustainable, it is environmentally unsustainable. The process of producing this food, storing/refrigerating it, packaging it, and shipping it hundreds or thousands of miles to grocery stores and the consumer’s table leads to inordinate amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and waste.


On top of that, the Qatari economy is dominated by the oil industry. It exported over $77 billion worth of oil products in 2015 alone (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries). If you were to walk in the lobby of my school (called the American School of Doha or ASD) here in Doha, Qatar right now, you would see a 4 by 3 foot plaque which reads “Foreign Language Wing Sponsored by Exxon Mobil” attached to the wall. Many school and community events are also supported by Exxon Mobil or other similar companies. Often, even a slight decrease in oil prices can lead to hundreds of employees being laid off.


In a nutshell, it’s hard to be an environmentalist (let alone an optimistic one) in a country that lacks abundant greenery and has a huge carbon footprint, yet doesn’t have a significant economic incentive to shift towards sustainability. When I started an Environmental Club at my school two years ago (months after moving from my home in Vermont to Qatar), I didn’t realize this climatic, cultural, and economic mess I was getting myself into.


Not a single person showed up to any of the first four club meetings. A handful of people came to the fifth (first official) meeting, but only because they were trying to be good friends to me...and I brought them brownies. Things didn’t change much in Environmental Club as time went on; it was a slow, rough, and discouraging first year. I was homesick for clean air and gorgeous, majestic, lush trees. I yearned to once again be surrounded by the overwhelming drive to keep Vermont- and the globe- sustainable.


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This (to the left) is the downtown area of Doha, Qatar. As you can see, there is hardly any green space. To the right is a picture taken in the town of Norwich, Vermont (just over 3,000 residents) where I lived until two years ago. The area is known for its beautiful mountains and nature. Vermont comes from the French words “vert” and “mont” which, together, mean “green mountains”.


Luckily, I learned a lot from that first year. I realized that I was among students who had never seen snow, who hadn’t played in the grass as a kid, who hadn’t watched leaves change colors or even lived in a place where fall is considered a season! I began to sympathize with my peers who didn’t care about the environment because I realized they lacked that cultural connection to nature. This led me to understand why the praiseworthy, grandiose projects of the Environmental Club I participated in in Vermont were not at all realistic in ASD Environmental Club. In fact, the ASD Environmental Club needed to start at the ground level by changing the community culture of sustainability, and shifting perspectives about our responsibility to act against climate change.


With that new goal in mind, the ASD Environmental Club was able to transform completely. I’m proud to say that the Environmental Club, now in its third year of existence, is one of the three largest and most productive clubs in my school. The club includes over 60 members (from grades 9-12), 4 project committees, two teacher advisors, and a leadership team of eight students (including me). Environmental Club is beyond anything that I could have possibly dreamed of two years ago. I believe that it has successfully changed the way that my peers and school community perceive sustainability and climate change.


So my message to you is that you don’t need to install solar panels at your school or start a composting program to be successful. Appreciate your community- its resources and limitations- and work in the context of those factors. Even the most simple thing, like a friend emailing you an idea for school sustainability, can be the sign of progress in creating sustainability. No matter where in the world you live, you can and should be an environmentalist. Your passion and drive is needed now more than ever!

If you're interested in learning more about and following the activities of the ASD Environmental Club, like its Facebook page here.

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Posted by Tyler Stotland on Oct 4, 2017 12:44 PM America/Chicago


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