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The Essence I Suppose - Part 2

When shown the images of two real donkeys, who used to be our adopted children, my little two year old grandson immediately pointed to his book, to a picture of a donkey with a sombrero and guitar.  He then carried on with the animals he knows, the mythical unicorns and other creatures, each endowed with different human traits.  He quickly lost interest in the real donkeys.

Sunshine and Sundance (in the back) in their new family place, not far from where we live in Texas. Even after five years of separation, they still clearly recognize and follow us, and demand brushing and petting. These two inseparable donkeys are the smartest and nicest animals I have ever had the privilege of knowing. If something were to happen to one of them, the other would die quickly of sorrow.
"Our children already live in a world where there are thousands of times more toy animals than there are animal animals. Animals are no longer objects of firsthand knowledge and acquaintance.... They are objects of mythology. And the day is not far off when the fabulous quality of animals in fables - the hare, the wolf, the bear -- will extend beyond allegory and take on the dimension of make-believe, like dragons and griffins." A quote from Andrey Bitov, "The last Bear."

Let's fast forward 26 years in age and move to Saudi Arabia.  Here is a final essay from Hussain A., a student in my fall 2019 "Earth, Environment, Energy and Economics" (E4 ) class. I have reproduced this essay with a few minor edits:

"As an engineer, I would like to start with numbers. On September 23rd  (Saudi National Day), my parents visited me at KAUST and stayed with me and my little family for one week. During that week, I remember that my mother told that they opened the last NOVA water pack (40 small bottles) and that I would need to purchase more NOVA water packs. Today (December 9, 2019), I still have 18 water bottles in that same pack. I addition, On December 9, 2019, I received an email from KAUST regarding my energy consumption during October 2019 which was 48% lower than the benchmark for similar size house.

My introductory paragraph is a result of one of the most important things I learned in the E4 course which is the magic word, “LESS.” This course was a wake-up call from the screaming “Earth,” that it is “Finite.” Hubbert cycles was one of the very powerful concepts I learned which illustrated how limited non-renewables cannot last forever and would actually deplete much faster than what we wish. Someone might say: if fossil fuels are limited then that is fine; we can replace them with renewables such as solar and wind energy. I wish it was that simple.

In this course, I learned about the embodied energy and I realized that it would require around 40-80% of proven oil reserves to replace oil and coal energy by solar and wind energy. However, solar cells and wind turbines would last for 30 years at best, then what? Renewable energy is the delicious and the “reassuring LIE” that people would like to hear instead of the “inconvenient TRUTH.” While it is obvious (to a rational person) that fossil fuels are limited and finite, our consumption behaviors toward Earth and the environment made things that once considered “Infinite” to be “Finite” such as clean air. CO2 emissions and their impact was stressed in this course.

People (including myself four months ago) do not realize that increasing CO2 (as well as methane) is a really serious problem. As we learned, high CO2 emissions were major contributors to some of the Mass extinctions in “Earth” history! So, are we moving toward an Anthropocene mass extinction? Unfortunately, yes; unless we do something about it. As we saw in a Nature communications paper by Kulpl and Strauss (2019), global warming would result in a sea-level rise that would impact hundreds of millions of people.

Means to control and reduce CO2 emissions were discussed in a paper by Wynes and Nicholas (2017),  which highlighted that the current population growth trend is the main issue and that we need to have less children. While we claim that we are smart creatures, we are in fact behaving like bacteria. Bacteria would continue splitting and increasing their population until they deplete all their resources and die together. This is what we are heading to. Our population growth results in depleting all natural resources and eventually would lead to the death of millions of people due to the lack of food/clean air/good quality water.

The Financial Times, December 27, 2019.

After completing this course, I took certain actions toward my own “Green New Deal” which are as follows:
  • No more children: I already have two sons and I will advise them in the future not to have more than one child. 
  • 2-minute shower rule: The maximum time to have a shower is 2 minutes. My wife and I are already applying it now. This is not only to conserve water but also the energy required to produce, pump, and heat that water (i.e. the embodied energy). 
  • A/C temperature is set between 23 oC and 24 oC in the summer with more frequent cleaning for the filters (applicable in my house in the eastern province) 
  • No more plastic water bottles: I have my reusable water bottle. 
  • Minimize and eventually eliminate the usage of plastic bags. 
  • Whenever possible, use “LESS.”
To conclude, I would like to share my recommendations regarding this course which were actually part of my course evaluation. This class should be mandatory to all KAUST students and even KAUST staff (at least as on-line training). Yet, that would be only the beginning. To me, we should not wait until people enter college to teach them about the finite resources and about our impact on the environment. Some of the material of this class should be part of the elementary, intermediate and high school curriculum. Young children should be told the "TRUTH" and should have enough knowledge to make the right decisions toward protecting the environment and toward adjusting their consumption behavior. In addition, the education system should encourage students to have field trips away from cities in order to build a connection between them and the environment. Appreciating nature could be a key to love it and protect it."

  • E4 Book and class notes.
  • Kulp, S. A.; Strauss, B. H. New Elevation Data Triple Estimates of Global Vulnerability to Sea-Level.
  • Rise and Coastal Flooding. Nature. Communication. 2019, 10 (1), 4844.
  • Wynes, S., and Nicholas, K. (2017). The climate mitigation gap: Education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions. Environmental Research Letters, 12(7). 
  • KAUST email regarding my energy consumption.


  1. There are fundamentals flaws in the way the IPCC handled the data in the last report. Please see

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