I grew up as Qatar was growing increasingly wealthy, sprouting the first of the skyscrapers that now line the Doha shore, and making a name for itself on the international stage. The source of much of this new wealth was natural gas, whose production, liquefaction and export by ship to markets in east Asia and Europe, was taking place in the north-east of Qatar. My childhood was spent in company accommodation close to these production facilities, after my father started working for one of the gas companies. Driving back home on the unlit highway from an evening in one of Doha’s new shopping malls, we would count the glittering points of orange light on the horizon – these were the flares at the gas production facilities, burning unused gas in flames that were several metres tall and visible tens of kilometres away. In my eyes, the permanence of these flares on the horizon represented Qatar’s eternal progress and ever-growing wealth. There was no place in this world for questions about the impact of fossil fuels on the climate.
That all changed for me when I was preparing for an environment-themed quiz in high school. It was the first time I came across the concept of climate change and I was shocked. The predictions of melting glaciers, rising sea levels, fiercer storms, global heatwaves and prolonged droughts seemed like prophecies of a biblical apocalypse, juxtaposed with the soft orange hues of the calm night sky outside my window, the low clouds reflecting the light of the permanent flares on the horizon. Had I not taken part in that quiz, or developed an interest in learning about environmental conservation, I could have spent the rest of my schooling, and perhaps even university and beyond, oblivious to the impending catastrophe. This is unfortunately common among those living in the Gulf states.