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prosopis

Abu Dhabi enjoys a curiously Janus like reputation in the Middle East.

Looking east from Riyadh, the emirate looks brash and glitzy, an alluringly modern young man, but looking west from fantasy Dubai it seems dour and conservative –  a kill-joy parent only good to bail you out when things get out of hand. Relatives can be hard to handle.

Warner Brothers were refused permission to film Sex and The City 2 in the emirate, and had to settle for Morocco, slyly inserting shots of Abu Dhabi later. But this didn’t stop the New York Times from slamming both the film and the (feigned) location:

“Sex and the City 2 flees into a never-never land that manages to be both an escape from contemporary reality and an off-key, out-of-touch mirror of it. The emirate to which the four friends repair is an oasis of gilded luxury in a world that has grown a little ambivalent about unbridled commodity fetishism… The ugly smell of unexamined privilege hangs over this film like the smoke from cheap incense.”

So what – I hear you grumbling – has all this got to do with trees?

Well, to try to make some sense of all this ambiguity I decided to apply my newly invented Hoggs-Bison® googlemetric* which provides a measure of a civilization based on how a community chooses to interact with its trees. So – skipping lightly over the ominous news that many of Abu Dhabi’s palm trees are imported from Florida – here is the evidence for the prosecution, based on a random selection of recent news items portraying the emirate’s sylvan behaviour.

1. Abu Dhabi Hotel Regrets $11 Million Christmas Tree

In December 2010 The Huffington Post reported that “An Abu Dhabi luxury hotel that boasted an $11 million Christmas tree decorated with gold and gems admitted Sunday it may have taken the holiday spirit a bit too far. A statement from the Emirates Palace hotel said it regretted ‘attempts to overload’ the Christmas tree tradition by adorning it with premium bling including gold, rubies, diamonds and other precious stones from a hotel jeweler”. The hotel later retracted its statement of regret, and three months later the tree made the Guinness Book of Records (“The most expensive Christmas tree ever created”).

Christmas Bling

2.  800 year old olive tree planted in Abu Dhabi Development

In July 2011 Gulfnews.com reported that this 800 year old olive tree – imported from Lebanon – has been planted on a new business and residential development as a “centerpiece to be something unique”  chosen for its “character and historic significance”. A new twist on Lebanon’s 6000 year timber exports.

never too old to travel?

3. Excessive watering poses danger to date palm trees in Abu Dhabi

In June this year, Gulfnews.com reported that date palms, which apparently need 300 litres of water a day to flourish, are routinely being given 2100 litres, making them susceptible to weak roots, pests and disease.  Abu Dhabi has the highest per capita water consumption in the world – 550 litres per day, compared to the global average of 350 litres, and the agricultural sector alone consumes 1.5 billion cubic litres of water a year, which is 52 per cent of the total consumption of the emirate.

4. Goats in a Ghaf

By way of contrast, here is Prosopis cineraria, known locally as the Ghaf tree, the UAE’s national tree, which is currently threatened by over-grazing (goats) and over chopping (humans).

stately ghaf, the UAE national tree

and just in case you doubt the destructive power of goats…

goat power

but we are straying from the City…

So how best can we make sense of all this? The Green Prophet blog (a “sustainable voice for green news on the Middle East region” – http://www.greenprophet.com) pointed out in November 2011 that an ongoing campaign to plant one million trees in Abu Dhabi (admirable in itself) seems like one more luxury the Emirate can scarcely afford. Apparently The Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) has planted one million trees in four years in order to stave off climate change and desertification, and to restore its heritage of indigenous trees, but as Green Prophet so neatly summarizes the conundrum:

“Without trees, the planet will heat up even faster and our air quality will worsen. Without water, on the other hand, life simply can’t exist; life grows where water flows.”

Abu Dhabi: paragon or pastiche? You decide.

* the  Hoggs-Bison® googlemetric uses modern browser technology to evaluate the level of porkies oversimplification and good old PRBS in modern spin generated sound-bites.