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Sustainability: Necessity or Luxury?

By Mohamed Thakeb

head shot of Mohamed Thakeb 2nd place winner

Sustainability, the buzz word that suddenly everyone’s talking about; from architects and engineers to scientists and organizations. Why do we, normal citizens, hear this word often and how should we react? First, it’s important to understand why sustainability has become the most important topic to talk about, so much so that international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) have set an agenda for all countries to adopt, and what are the consequential effects of not adhering and adapting to this situation.

Importance of Sustainability

Today, we are fortunate to live in a globalized world, we communicate and share knowledge, experience with ease that’s what humanity is all about: cooperating to solve common issues, thus creating civilizations. We’ve endured a lot of challenges and even triumphed above them all, but one confrontation we surely cannot win is against nature.

Quick flashback to the 1st industrial revolution, countries saw rapid economic growth and urbanization through conventional policies, thus depleting natural resources without taking into account the needs of future generations. This definitive approach has led to exploiting nature and polluting the atmosphere, thus creating huge environmental and economic challenges such as climate change. On the contrary, sustainability is about preserving and even expanding natural resources for the current and next generations to consume. It is essentially the art of management and farsighted planning. Hence why countries, corporates, etc. are creating their upcoming milestones which all revolve around sustainable growth.

Due to the aforementioned environmental challenges stated above, the effects of climate change have started to appear: from the rising sea levels to the desertification and loss of agricultural lands to the extinction of many species. Indeed, a worldwide phenomenon, though MENA countries are the most affected, out of which water resources are already scarce [1]. Other natural resources such as Oil & Gas have started to be phased out by other greener energy sources such as solar and wind power as the innovation in technology and the oil prices continue to rise. All of these challenges conclude that it’s a necessity to take care of our natural wealth in a much more efficient and productive manner, as there will be unprecedented consequences if one falls behind, in a region that is infamous for its turmoil.

Likewise, sustainability doesn’t only address environmental issues, but also economic, and social issues. As previously mentioned, sustainability is essentially competent management. Meaning that everything is interconnected - for example; investing in women empowerment results in a better quality of living, better education and more awareness, equating to a stronger, more capable workforce, and all of which cast into a more efficiently run country.

The Way Forward

This part is summarized best as UN secretary-general A.Guterres puts it: “Human activities are at the roof of our descent towards chaos. But that means human action can help to solve it.” Before any initiative is taken, first, there has to be a vision, and step by step it will be accomplished. Today there are many world leaders of influential countries that deny any climate-change threat proving a lack of leadership and hurdling cooperation between nations. There are many solutions to minimize the effect of climate change and increasing sustainability. Investing in modern irrigation systems could save up to 50% of water resources [2], the same applies to renewable energy which has a direct impact on our environmental quality thus reducing expenditure on healthcare and taxes in general. Proper architectural design is vital, encouraging local sustainable materials directly impacts personal comfort (heat-transfer) but also for an economic and environmental reason (fewer HVAC systems equates to reduced taxes and greenhouse gas emissions).

While all of these solutions are adequate, they cannot be utilized probably without promoting environmental education and awareness, enhancing the rule-of-law the enforcing regulations uponcitizens and especially upon industries. People tend to underestimate the power of order and history reminds us of this, this is the biggest factor in any initiative success. It’s not entirely the concern of the individual to cut emissions, it is the government’s responsibility through legislative means, in the end, it is the money that talks. This is especially evident in developing countries where people don’t put greater emphasis on savings resulted from greener alternatives, rather initial expenditure is their main concern.

Role of Youth

Youth today make up almost half of the population in the MENA [3]. They can be reform drivers, working towards a more sustainable future. But these potentials require a big investment to build opportunities for productive learning and social participation, which are already scarce in the region. Environmental programs should be encouraged, updating school curriculums to teach about sustainability along with raising awareness through campaigns, altering daily habits like reducing food, energy and water waste. In general, the youth are key stakeholders for change.

References

[1] Waha, K., Krummenauer, L., Adams, S., Aich, V., Baarsch, F., Coumou, D., Fader, M., Hoff, H., Jobbins, G., Marcus, R. and Mengel, M., 2017. Climate change impacts in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) region and their implications for vulnerable population groups. Regional Environmental Change, 17(6), pp.1623-1638.

[2] Negri, D.H. and Hanchar, J.J., 1989. Water conservation through irrigation technology. All US Government Documents (Utah Regional Depository), p.119.

[3] Unicef, 2021. MENA Generation 2030: Investing in children and youth today to secure a prosperous region tomorrow. [Online]. Access link: https://www.unicef.org/mena/reports/mena-generation-2030