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In unbearable heat, Qatar has begun to air-condition the outdoors

The Washington Post reports:

By the time average global warming hits 2 degrees Celsius, Qatar’s temperatures would soar, said Mohammed Ayoub, senior research director at the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute. In rapidly growing urban areas throughout the Middle East, some predict cities could become uninhabitable.

“We’re talking about 4 to 6 degrees Celsius increase in an area that already experiences high temperatures,” Ayoub said. “So, what we’re looking at more is a question of how does this impact the health and productivity of the population.”

The danger is acute in Qatar because of the Persian Gulf humidity. The human body cools off when its sweat evaporates. But when humidity is very high, evaporation slows or stops. “If it’s hot and humid and the relative humidity is close to 100 percent, you can die from the heat you produce yourself,” said Jos Lelieveld, an atmospheric chemist at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany who is an expert on Middle East climate.

That became abundantly clear in late September, as Doha hosted the 2019 World Athletics Championships. It moved the start time for the women’s marathon to midnight Sept. 28. Water stations handed out sponges dipped in ice-cold water. First-aid responders outnumbered the contestants. But temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 28 of the 68 starters failed to finish, some taken off in wheelchairs.

Workers are particularly at risk. A German television report alleged hundreds of deaths among foreign workers in Qatar in recent years, prompting new limits on outdoor work. A July article in the journal Cardiology said that 200 of 571 fatal cardiac problems among Nepalese migrants working there were caused by “severe heat stress” and could have been avoided.

The U.S. Air Force calls very hot days “black flag days” and limits exposure of troops stationed at al-Udeid Air Base. Personnel conducting patrols or aircraft maintenance work for 20 minutes, then rest for 40 minutes and drink two bottles of water an hour. People doing heavy work in the fire department or aircraft repair may work for only 10 minutes at a time, followed by 50 minutes of rest, according to a spokesman for the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing.

In early July, Qatar’s Civil Defense Command warned against doing outdoor work between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., putting gas cylinders in the sun, turning on water heaters, completely filling fuel tanks or car tires, or needlessly running the air conditioner. It urged people to drink plenty of fluids — and to beware of snakes and scorpions.

For now, managing climate change in a place like Qatar, whose slogan for the World Cup is “Expect Amazing,” is primarily a matter of money.

And Qatar has plenty. Its sovereign wealth fund is worth about $320 billion. A few of its stakes include Harrods department store, London’s gigantic Canary Wharf, the Paris Saint-Germain soccer club, the CityCenterDC office and residential development and a 10 percent stake in the Empire State Building.

Qatar has used its riches to great effect at home, where 11 winners of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize have built striking high-rises and stadiums. The result is a strange combination of avant-garde architecture, oil wealth, Islamic conservatism, shopping malls and climate change that Qatari American artist Sophia al-Maria has dubbed “Gulf Futurism.”

“With the coming global environmental collapse, to live completely indoors is like, the only way we’ll be able to survive. The Gulf’s a prophecy of what’s to come,” she said in an interview in Dazed Digital, an online magazine covering fashion and culture.

So far, Qatar has maintained outdoor life through a vast expansion of outdoor air conditioning. In the restored Souq Waqif market, a maze of shops, restaurants and small hotels, three- to four-foot-high air-conditioning units blow cool air onto cafe customers. At a cost of $80 to $250 each depending on the quality, they are the only things that make outdoor dining possible in a place where overnight low temperatures in summer rarely dip below 90 degrees.

Recently, the luxury French department store Galeries Lafayette opened in a shopping mall that features stylish air-conditioning grates in the broad cobblestone walkways outside. Each of the vents, about 1 by 6 feet, has a decorative design. Many of them hug the outside of buildings, cooling off window shoppers looking at expensive fashions. Though nearly deserted in the heat, by 5 p.m. some people begin to emerge to sit outside places like Cafe Pouchkine.

One recent afternoon as the temperature eased to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, Aida Adi Baziac, an interior designer, was sharing iced lattes with a friend. They had just finished work and were perched over a cooling grate at an outdoor table at Joe’s Cafe.

“I would say it’s wasteful,” Adi Baziac said. “I know how it impacts the environment negatively.”

But it allows them to enjoy the outdoors in the summer, she added. “We can sit outside in an air-conditioned, controlled area, and we sit and mix and mingle.”

Even Qatar’s small band of climate activists sympathize. Asked about the outdoor air conditioners, Neeshad Shafi, executive director of Arab Youth Climate Movement Qatar, said, “That’s about survival. It’s too hot. That’s the reality.” [Continue reading…]

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