Construction in the Desert

Me at breakfast in front of the towering Burj Khalifa

I spent 3 days this past weekend in the bustling cosmopolitan city of Dubai. It is a city that has built its identity using superlatives…biggest, fastest, longest, tallest (Fun Fact: It holds 102 world records and Guinness has even opened its own Dubai office to handle all the applications.) From man made islands to the towering 828m Burj Khalifa to the indoor ski hill and the never ending malls the propensity towards extravagant construction was immediately apparent. It had been a long time since I was in a city with a skyline as impressive as Dubai’s and I spent most of my time wandering around with wide eyes soaking it all in.

Much like Las Vegas, Dubai transforms itself from a dusty steel desert city during the day to a dazzling light show at night. It is beautiful. And as an engineer I can appreciate the complexities of the design and

The Dubai Mall and Fountain

construction. It is a city that is built from many people asking the question “We can build this, Why not?” rather than “We can build this, should we?” It might feel like a small difference but it is the difference between taking a selfish self promoting perspective and recognizing the global impact of those decisions.

The environmental effects of Dubai’s rapid growth and luxury lifestyle are significant. Structures are built without adequately considering the availability of water and electricity…and with limited resources the UAE has one of the highest water consumption rates in the world. To support the demand for fresh water the UAE (and other gulf countries) rely heavily on desalinized water from the Persian Gulf. They pump the water in, remove the salt and then pump the excess sludge back into the ocean. In 2010 the Gulf’s salinity level had already increased by over 50% from the levels 30 years prior which is enough to threaten ocean life and plants. The desalination process is energy intensive and coupled with the power required to run the lavish city pushes the demand beyond what even this energy rich region can support. The UAE has turned to nuclear power plants to close the gap between energy supply and demand which will create its own environmental problems. This construction/consumption model is not sustainable on many levels…but it sure is pretty to look at.

It made me think of the ways we choose to construct our lives. Are they lives we build out of choosing our self and getting our own way. Or are they lives we build by choosing Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to do the construction…or selfish vs. supporting life. Paul cautions us about the difference between these 2 construction techniques in Galatians:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex, a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness, trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants, a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.” Galatians 5:19-21 (The Message)

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard — things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” Galatians 5:22-23 (The Message)

It all boils down to choices and focus…I for one will choose life and sustainability.



Burj Khalifa at night

View from the observation deck. Notice the edge of the city and the start of the desert.

Indoor ski hill at the Emirates Mall

3 thoughts on “Construction in the Desert

  1. Good on you, and gorgeous you! You look so beautiful. I hope this reflects how you are feeling. Thank you for writing such an important post, I always think of that when urban growth occurs, while intriguing and beautiful in its own way, it damages so much.
    Be well lovely.

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