'An unwise idea': Prof critical of plan to haul icebergs to Dubai
Published Monday, June 12, 2017 9:14AM EDT
A U.A.E. company's plan to tow icebergs to the country for water is an "unwise" stopgap measure that fails to address the root of the problem, a Canadian Earth sciences professor says.
The plan is to drag icebergs from Heard Island, in the Antarctic, some 9,200 kilometres north to Fujairah, on the coast of the United Arab Emirates, where they'll be used for drinking water in the freshwater-strapped country.
But University of Toronto professor Miriam Diamond says the U.A.E. should be focusing its efforts on reducing their water use, not on "absurd" ventures like importing ice from Antarctica.
"I think it's an unwise idea," Diamond told CTV's Your Morning on Monday. She suggests the plan is postponing and diverting money and effort from solving the problem in a sustainable way, by opting instead for a quick-fix measure that will only speed up global warming. She also points out that the icebergs are likely to melt and break apart while they're being dragged through the Indian Ocean to Dubai.
"This is a stopgap measure with dubious success," she said.
The U.A.E.'s National Advisor Bureau, which is behind the iceberg plan, argues that it will generate billions of litres of fresh water that would otherwise melt and disperse into the ocean. The company also suggests an iceberg off the coast of Dubai would create a microclimate to cause more rain, and that icebergs will ease the U.A.E.'s reliance on water desalination plants.
But Diamond says the presence of an iceberg may actually create more problems for ocean life along the route to Dubai.
"Locally, it will create a zone of very cold fresh water in an oceanic system which is not friendly… for the animals and the plants living in the region," she said.
She also points out that the fleet of ships necessary to haul an iceberg would likely burn a great deal of fossil fuels, which will only contribute to the melting of the polar ice caps through global warming.
"The dirtiest fuel available is saved for ocean-going ships," she said. "And why are these icebergs available for towing? Because of climate change."
Diamond acknowledges the extreme water stress in U.A.E. and surrounding region, where approximately five per cent of the world's population relies on one per cent of the world's fresh water supply. Some estimates suggest the region will run out of water in as little as 15 years.
She adds that Dubai only adds to that problem, because wealthy oil and gas billionaires have built it into a "very elaborate, water-rich city which is completely unsustainable. It's true Disney land."
Diamond says there's only one clear solution to the water problem in the U.A.E. "Reduce your demand," she said. "Get a handle on it."
Other countries, including Canada, have used icebergs for drinking water. However, none have been so bold as to haul them great distances from their origin points at the poles.
According to a National Advisor Bureau promotional video, the move will also drive tourism, with many flocking to Fujairah to watch the icebergs come in.
The video makes some bold claims about the possible outcomes of the project, including the suggestion that it will "bring the ancient greenery back" and turn the U.A.E. into a lush paradise.
It also shows polar bears (from the Arctic) and penguins (from the Antarctic) hitching a ride on the iceberg, so perhaps more research is necessary before the project actually gets underway.