Over the last few years, the conversation about how to fight climate change has focused on transportation — our cars, the planes, the way we move around in our daily lives and the way we move across continents. That certainly is a problem we need to solve on our path to a decarbonized economy. But we should not overlook another topic, which is the way we keep our bodies at a temperature that feels comfortable. This is air conditioning in some parts of the world and heating in others (and sometimes both, depending on the time of year).
The topic is actually somewhat personal to me. I grew up in the east of France. We had very cold winters. I remember spending entire days being chilled to the bones. It was minus 5 degrees Celsius but the wind and humidity made it feel like minus 20 C. And then sometimes it actually was minus 20 C. I realize, looking back, that this cold ruined my childhood a bit. I have come to realize how, despite the 99 things that drive me nuts in Dubai, the weather is one of the three things that keep me here. I rarely go to the beach and I stay away from the sun, but I am grateful that I never have to wear lined boots. And when it is chilly in the winter in Dubai (meaning 12 C), I actually enjoy it.
Over the years, I have realized that, for people who grew up in the Gulf, things are the exact opposite. What ruined their childhoods was the heat. For many people, England is the answer to what Dubai is for me — a place where you can go and never sweat.
In Northern Europe, people expend a lot of energy in the winter protecting themselves from the cold. In the Middle East, people expend a lot of energy in the summer protecting themselves from the heat.
There is an opportunity for the Middle East to become the Florida of Europe and for Europe to become the Hamptons of the Middle East.
Does it have to be that way? Can we not think of a better way to do it?
What if we could live in the winter in a place where you do not need any heating and spend our summers in a place when you do not need air conditioning? After all, we are people, not trees. Nothing stops us from moving back and forth like migratory birds.
Europe cannot continue to spend as much on fossil fuels as it does for heating in the winter, while Arabia cannot continue to spend as much on fossil fuel as it does for air conditioning in the summer. There is an opportunity for the Middle East, for countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Lebanon, to become the Florida of Europe and for Europe to become the Hamptons of the Middle East.
To be fair, some people are already living such lives. But they are a small minority, individuals who probably do not have kids who go to school or regular jobs that need to be attended. We should learn from those people to see how we can optimize this lifestyle. To have an impact on carbon dioxide emissions, this seasonal migration needs to become a mass phenomenon. Millions of people need to willingly move back and forth.
We need to think about housing, transportation, hospitals and schools.
Of course, one of the problems is whether people can imagine living such lives. A few years ago, I told people in France that, one day, they will want to go on vacation to Saudi Arabia. Some people laughed at me, saying this would never happen. Others looked at me as if they were assessing whether I had totally lost my mind. Imagine if, out of the blue, I announced to them that soon enough they will look forward to those six months of every year they spend in Saudi Arabia.
And then there is the other leg: Masses of people from the Middle East spending their summers in Europe. That will require some PR work and a strategy on how it can be done cost-effectively.
I do not know how to calculate exactly how much energy we can save doing this, but I do know that there is a deadly mountain in front of us and we are flying in a plane that is running out of fuel. Beyond this mountain, there is a land of milk and honey. We can either choose to take our chances and see how many of us make it over the mountain or we can choose to offload a bit of weight to make sure we make it. It is up to us.
• Nadine Laubacher is a French independent business and communication consultant, with an expertise in tourism, media and culture.