Greet, meet, and eat with African asylum seekers in Israel

Green Prophet - July 19, 2014

If you live in south Tel Aviv in the Shapiro neighborhood by the central bus station you might come in contact with an African migrant or refugee. Unless you live side by side with them, it’s doubtful that you’ll get a chance to talk to one of the tens of thousands of men, and sometimes women, who fled or migrated to Israel from countries like Eritrea and Sudan, in hope of a better life. But eating with them? That’s a different story.

On a Monday night in Jaffa a few months ago, TV was passé: Israelis and African migrants and refugees opened their ears and hearts to one another at a local restaurant which shut its kitchen down to the public and opened it up to let the Africans do the cooking.

Facing deportation, and with little in the way of job prospects and any sort of status in Israel, their fate is hanging by a thread. It’s hard for them to trust anyone who might be linked with the Israeli authorities.

Over the years about 60,000 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, have come to Israel mainly through Egypt and other Muslim countries. Some have fled violence in their countries, or have come to Israel for better prospects.

Sitting at my table was Dawit Damuz, a 30-something migrant from Senafe, Eritrea, a city close to the Ethiopian border. He has been in Israel since 2004. He told us that his life was made hell by the army who tortured him and other men that did not conform to army sanctions. There were strange practices called “helicoptering” which tortured men by hanging them from their legs. Men in the army simply go missing, there are extrajudicial killings, and incommunicado detentions.

Only four official religions can be practiced in the country, Damuz explained, and anyone who is meeting in groups larger than five people at a time are punished.

Now in Israel Damuz has become a local leader among the asylum seekers in Tel Aviv who are facing deportation by the authorities. While they claim refugee rights, some Israelis and their politicians say it is the burden of countries through which they passed to absorb the migrants.

If there is any doubt about the problems the Africans may face, according to Human Rights Watch, “Torture, arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and religious freedom remain routine in Eritrea.”

But even if for small moments, politics could be brushed aside at the second Cook, Eat & Meet in Jaffa. Every day Israelis were invited to meet some of the faces of the African refugees who share their city.

Amnesty International organizes such events to show locals in some cities the plight of asylum seekers and refugees. Two new immigrants to Israel, one from the UK and one from America organized this event in Jaffa.

Earlier on the Israelis in the group, about 30 or 40 people, were chopping vegetables and sipping on a beer, tea or a glass of water. We sat around tables of about eight and talked with an asylum seeker.

We drank a Central African Republic warm pudding drink called popoto made with rice and peanut butter. The recipe was shared and as we sipped it seemed like every Israeli with roots elsewhere said it reminded them of a drink from “home”. For me it tasted like the local Arabian sahlab, a thick drink sprinked with peanuts made to warm your insides on cold winter nights in Israel.

And throughout the night African migrants and refugees shared their stories of home, obligatory army service, the lack of freedom of speech –– and food.

A stack of injera bread, with a hint of molasses and a bit sandy to the bite (from the desert?), waited by the service window as three readied pots of simple food, like alicha, with vegetables and lentils released smells not familiar to the Arabian city of Jaffa.

There were journalists, PR professionals, those from the startup community, and activists eager to “taste” the life and times of those less lucky in Israel. It was a time for people to get personal as we sat around round tables letting the Africans explain their life and times before Israel.

That night my home city of Jaffa, sometimes troubled, sometimes violent, but always interesting, seemed to be transformed. Whether it was the good will, and positive energy inside the Tarnagol Restaurant (that hosted this encounter) which transferred this vibe I cannot say.

All I can say is that the event brought some new life and hope to everyone there. We learned a few recipes that connected Israel directly to Africa, even if only by way of an imaginary border.

For upcoming events like this one, email

Categories: Lifestyle

What biomimicry architects can learn from scorpions

Green Prophet - July 19, 2014

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev scientists have poured molten aluminum into a scorpion burrow and discovered that scorpion burrows have a platform on which to warm up before the evening hunt.

Amanda Adams from the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research and Professor Berry Pinshow, her adviser, are investigating the burrows of wild Large-Clawed Scorpions (Scorpio maurus palmatus) in the Negev Desert of Israel.

After trapping the scorpions, they prepared replica casts of their burrows by filling them with molten aluminium. Once the casts had solidified, they were then dug out to be analysed by a 3-D laser scanner and computer software.

Rather than being simple holes in the ground, it was found that the burrows followed a very sophisticated design. Each burrow began with a short, vertical entrance shaft that flattened out a few centimeters below the surface into a horizontal platform.

The researchers believe that this provides a safe, warm place for the scorpions to increase their body temperature before they leave the burrow to forage at night. As ectothermic animals, scorpions rely on energy from the environment to regulate their internal temperature.

RELATED: A deadly scorpion can be a safe pesticide

The burrows then turn sharply downwards, descending further below ground to form a dead-ended chamber. Being cool and humid, this chamber provides a refuge for the scorpions to rest during the heat of the day, where evaporative water loss is minimal. As the design was common to all the burrows studied, this suggests that burrow building in scorpions has evolved by natural selection to meet the animals’ physiological needs.

“Very little is known about burrow environments,” says Dr. Adams. “We plan to expand our studies to more scorpion species around the world to test how burrow structure is shaped to be part of the burrow builder’s extended physiology.” Understanding the relationship between environmental conditions and burrow structures, meanwhile, could help to predict how burrow-builders will respond to climate change.

Scorpions are predatory arachnids, found on all continents except Antarctica. They occupy a range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, mountains and deserts. Their varied diets include arthropods, lizards and even small rodents.

Categories: Lifestyle

The UAE unveils plans to send the first Arab spaceship to Mars by 2021

Green Prophet - July 18, 2014

Apart from a couple of monkeys from Iran, the Middle East has yet to send a serious mission to space. But Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE vice president and ruler of Dubai, recently confirmed that this is about to change with news that the United Arab Emirates is planning to send a spaceship to Mars by 2021.

“Our region is a cradle of great civilizations,” Sheikh Al Maktoum said in a recent tweet. “Given the right tools Arabs, once again, can deliver new scientific contributions to humanity.”

In order to be able to send a mission to Mars however, it’s first necessary to establish a space agency that can coordinate the mammoth effort that sending an uncrewed mission to Mars entails.

Al Maktoum said in a statement that the agency will be responsible for “organizing the mission, developing the UAE’s aerospace sector, and maximizing the contribution of space industries to the national economy,” writes The Verge.

The UAE has already invested a substantial sum to develop its space technology. $5.4 billion has been spent already – mostly on satellites.

Related: Iran plans to send a monkey to space

“The government’s investment company owns satellite broadcasting system Yahsat, which recently announced plans to launch its third satellite in 2016,” The Verge reports. “The Emirates Institution for Advanced Science and Technology (EIAST), established by the government of Dubai in 2006, launched its own DubaiSat-1 in 2009, with DubaiSat-2 following in 2013.”

“The new probe to Mars represents our Arab and Muslim world entering to the era of space exploration,” says Al Maktoum.

Although the UAE has been pushing to develop a pan-Arab space agency since 2008, several nations in the Middle East / North Africa region have been embroiled in the kind of conflict that creates a barrier to science. And no doubt some critics will question the UAE’s expenditures on such a “frivolous” mission. But we think that this will be a huge boon to the region.

In addition to developing the necessary technology, this kind of project could usher in a new generation of young scientists and explorers, which will hopefully be publicized from the region (rather than abroad.)

With its oil and gas reserves, and a progressive government that values science and technology development, the UAE is well-poised to pull this off.

Categories: Lifestyle

Zaha Hadid modernizes Islamic design with winning Heydar Aliyev in Azerbaijan

Green Prophet - July 17, 2014

The London Design Museum bestowed upon Zaha Hadid the prestigious Design of the Year award for this incredible Heydar Aliyev Center in Azerbaijan, and there’s nothing green about it. But it does reinterpret fluid Islamic design in some interesting ways, and it really is a work of pure genius.

Zaha Hadid Architecture won an international competition to design the center in 2007. She told Dezeen that it’s her most important design to date.

Located in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, the Heydar Aliyev Center is designed to host the country’s cultural programs and activities while making a concise break from the rigid, formal architectural language prevalent in the Soviet Union.

“The design of the Heydar Aliyev Center establishes a continuous, fluid relationship between its surrounding plaza and the building’s interior,” Hadid’s team write in their design brief for Dezeen.

“The plaza, as the ground surface; accessible to all as part of Baku’s urban fabric, rises to envelop an equally public interior space and define a sequence of event spaces dedicated to the collective celebration of contemporary and traditional Azeri culture.”

Related: Comparing Qatar stadium to a vagina is “ridiculous” says Zaha Hadid

In order to achieve that fluid style which appears to push out of the surrounding urban fabric like a mountain, the design team led by Saffet Kaya Bekiroglu built a steel space frame and clad the exterior in overlapping glass-fiber reinforced concrete panels.

“Fluidity in architecture is not new to this region,” they add.

“In historical Islamic architecture, rows, grids, or sequences of columns flow to infinity like trees in a forest, establishing non-hierarchical space. Continuous calligraphic and ornamental patterns flow from carpets to walls, walls to ceilings, ceilings to domes, establishing seamless relationships and blurring distinctions between architectural elements and the ground they inhabit.”

Daylighting may offset some energy use, but frankly, from an environmental perspective, this building has virtually nothing to offer. From an engineering, design and maybe even especially from a cultural perspective, all accolades are definitely worthy.

Photos via Iwan Baan

Categories: Lifestyle

Bahrain generates oil and brains using 5 MW solar power

Green Prophet - July 17, 2014

In a move to diversify its energy package Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) launched its first pilot solar power project this past June in Awali, in the south of Bahrain.

Together with the National Oil and Gas Authority, the Electricity and Water Authority, and the University of Bahrain, Bapco wants to improve the generation of clean energy using the sun – the major renewable energy resource in the Middle East.

Economists and energy experts say the project will contribute to the growth of renewable energy industries, create jobs in a new and promising field, and reduce dependence on natural gas as a major source for power generation.

The $25 million project installed solar energy units in three locations: in Awali, with a 1.6 megawatt capacity; the oil refinery plant, with a 3 megawatt capacity; and at the University of Bahrain, with a 0.5 megawatt capacity, announced Bapco’s general manager of engineering projects Abdul Jabbar Abdulkarim.

“The project succeeded in generating electricity through solar energy and smart grid applications that optimise the reliability and safety of the electricity distribution network,” said Abdulkarim.

“The University of Bahrain played a pivotal role in the success of this project by placing 2,000 solar panels at various university facilities, with each panel generating 200 watts of electricity, for a total of 400 kilowatts,” said University of Bahrain vice president for planning and development Waheeb al-Nasser.

The university’s large expanse of land – nearly 10,000 square metres – is ideal for launching other renewable energy projects, he added, such as harnessing wind energy by installing wind turbines on the university campus.

Solar and wind energy are readily available in the kingdom of Bahrain especially in June and July. If you are in the Middle East now you will understand the power of the sun.

Categories: Lifestyle

Project Jewel: Moshe Safdie designs a massive indoor bio-dome for Singapore

Green Prophet - July 15, 2014

 Nearly half a decade after his famous Habitat ’67, architect Moshe Safdie is still going strong. Born in Israel, Safdie strives to incorporate sustainability in his firm’s designs, but Project Jewel may be his most flamboyant effort yet. Hit the jump to learn more about this interesting airport development in Singapore.

Slated for construction at Changi Airport, a major transportation hub that manages some 30 percent of the country’s air traffic, Project Jewel is designed to raise the airport’s profile as a worthwhile destination in itself for tourists either passing through or landing in Singapore.

Like a giant dome interconnecting terminals 1, 2, and 3, the new building will be comprised of glass and steel – not the most sensible or earth-friendly materials – and feature a massive indoor garden and even a waterfall that will pour from the dome’s roof.

Included in the mixed-use development’s offerings are retail facilities and a large communal facility complete with other interesting activities — all part of the plan to colonize the traveler’s mind with images of an airport that is more than just a boring place to wait for a plane.

Related: Bring Moshe Safdie’s green building to the Middle East

“To strengthen Changi Airport’s competitive advantage and ensure that we continue to capture passenger mindshare and traffic, we must take deliberate steps to enhance Changi’s attractiveness as a stopover point.  With Project Jewel, we are pleased to be developing an exciting product that will swing travellers to choose Changi Airport, and Singapore,” said Mr Lee Seow Hiang, Chief Executive Officer of the developers Changi Airport Group (CAG).

The indoor garden will include green walls that will help to offset a tiny amount of the overall emissions associated with an airport facility of this extraordinary girth – after all, it intends to serve 85 million passengers by the time Project Jewel is complete.

At $1.5 billion, this is no small project, so Safdie has a chance to really create something spectacular. It’s not clear when it will break ground, but at least local design firms will participate in the process of creating a unique lifestyle destination for the world’s wealthy elite.

:: Changi Airport

Images via Neoscape

Categories: Lifestyle

Tentsile tents are suspended tree houses you can carry anywhere

Green Prophet - July 15, 2014

It’s hard to write about frivolous design when there are so many worrying things happening in the Middle East, but that’s what we do. We try to put something light and happy in your heart, maybe a sliver of hope for happier, more peaceful days.

In this case hope and happiness come in the form of a treehouse you can take anywhere!

Originally invented in 2010 by Alex Shirley-Smith, the first tentsile treehouse tent exploded on the internet to such an extent that Shirley-Smith hired a new designer to work on several prototypes in 2012.

Kirk Kirchev came up with the current design, which can be suspended four feet above the ground as long as there are three points at which the tent can be anchored.

Like a regular multi-person tent that can be packed up in a small bag and carried around, the tentsile offers ultimate portability.

Related: Collapsible refugee tents powered by the sun

But it’s different in that it offers a vantage point that most people won’t find in a regular tent, one that lends itself to thoughtful reflection, but also spares those who might be concerned about insects and snakes and other wildlife encounters.

Of course, anyone with fear of heights might not love this design, and there’s always the question – how the heck do you get in the tent? See this video for a rough guide to pitching a suspended tent. Also, note the company warns people not to exceed the maximum load of 880 pounds.

The $599 two person “portable treehouse tent” comes in a variety of colors and with a removable fly sheet. In addition to providing shelter for two, it can connect with other Tentsile Connect tents to create a “super camp” of three or more tents – like a communal treehouse gathering.

Tents can be shipped around the world for $70, so unlike so many of these neat designs, it should be available to people living in the Middle East and North Africa as well


:: Tentsile

Categories: Lifestyle

Sunscreen isn’t enough against skin cancer – new research

Green Prophet - July 15, 2014

So you’ve made a batch of Green Prophet’s homemade organic sunscreen. And you’ve waxed your legs or chest hairs with our Arabian sugar wax. But home remedies are not enough to stave off bigger problems like skin cancer.

New research in suggests that sunscreen cannot be relied upon alone to prevent malignant melanoma, the deadly form of skin cancer.

The research appeared in Nature: “This research adds important evidence showing that sunscreen has a role, but that you shouldn’t just rely on this to protect your skin,” says Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK.

The research supports public health campaigns that ask people to both use sunscreen and cover up their skin with clothing.

The Nature study attempted to explain the mechanism in which UV light can cause melanoma, and scientists examined the molecular effects of UV light on the skin of mice at risk of melanoma, and if disease development was blocked by sunscreen.

Crucially, the researchers show that UV light damages the skin cells and causes faults in the p53 gene, which normally helps protect from the effects of DNA damage.

Sunscreen can greatly reduce DNA damage and slow the development of cancer. But protection from sunscreen is not complete.

Professor Richard Marais, study author and Cancer Research UK scientist, based at the University of Manchester, says: “UV light has long been known to cause melanoma skin cancer, but exactly how this happens has not been clear. These studies allow us to begin to understand how UV light causes melanoma.

“This work highlights the importance of combining sunscreen with other strategies to protect our skin, including wearing hats and loose fitting clothing, and seeking shade when the sun is at its strongest.”

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “We’ve known for some time that sunscreen, when applied properly, can help protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. But people tend to think they’re invincible once they’ve put it on and end up spending longer out in the sun, increasing their overall exposure to UV rays.

“This research adds important evidence showing that sunscreen has a role, but that you shouldn’t just rely on this to protect your skin. It’s essential to get into good sun safety habits, whether at home or abroad, and take care not to burn – sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer.

“When the sun is strong, pop on a t-shirt, spend some time in the shade and use a sunscreen with at least SPF15 and good UVA protection.”

Image of sunscreen on back from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

San Francisco’s plastic ban sends seismic wave around the world

Green Prophet - July 12, 2014

Look West, Middle East – for a failsafe way to ween off one-use plastic bottles! Banning plastics is the best first step to eliminating this poisonous prodrome of modern civilization.

Last March, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a bottle-banning ordinance – quickly signed into law by Mayor Edwin M. Lee – prohibiting the sale of plastic water bottles on public property throughout this seismically-active city. The ban goes into effect in October 2014, the first of its kind in America: will it resonate around the world as a model in dealing with municipal waste?

“Where we have public spaces, in buildings, parks and other open space—these are places that we don’t want the sale or distribution of plastic water bottles,” said city official David Chiu who introduced the ordinance last year.

“San Francisco might have done it just a little bit to make every other American city look even worse,” wrote Eve Andrews in Grist.

Most US cities do pale against ‘Frisco. Did you know that television, Chinese fortune cookies and Irish Coffee were all invented in in the “City by the Bay”? Levi Strauss sewed the first pair of blue jeans there (1873).  It’s the birthplace of the world’s first cable car (same year) – and the first public transit system run solely by electricity (1874).  It’s where the United Nations was founded (1945), and its Human Rights Commission – formed in 1964 – has been at the forefront of the American civil rights movement. And San Francisco Bay is the largest estuary on America’s Pacific Coast.

That last fact in large part underpins the city’s environmental activism – and civic action. This bottle ban resulted from ten years of grassroots organizing. Residents will be encouraged to use reusable bottles, which will lower demand for waste collection and recycling, saving the city money and reducing strain on landfills. It also chokes the growing feed-stock of plastic pollution, and slowly re-educates the public on smarter ways to re-hydrate.

Twenty-five years ago, this topic was not even on the table. People drank from public water taps, flowing with free, safe, city water. While most major cities in America and Europe did offer public drinking fountains, maintenance of these systems has long been abandoned as people moved to purchased water. Moving back to that model reclaims the commons of water from corporate control – water is a resource that belongs to all of us.

It’s unlikely that the water-starved nations in the Middle East will invest in permanent public drinking fountains, but there are portable alternatives that serve the same purpose. The video below, created by Center for a New American Dream, explains the new law and shows one such water station in action.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Does your zip code lack the political resolve to ban plastic bottles outright?  Individual action is simple and also effective. Use reusables. Because weening ourselves off one-off water bottles will afford the same ecological, fiscal and health benefits that San Francisco will be enjoying.

It’s a common sense approach that needs to be expanded to all plastic bottles, regardless of their contents.

Image of plastic bottle waste from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

NOMADD robots clean Saudi solar panels without using a drop of water

Green Prophet - July 11, 2014

Saudi Arabia is a desert country with no freshwater resources. Every day the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) produces more than three million cubic meters a day of potable water, which requires a great deal of precious energy, so every drop must be conserved. Cue NOMADD.

Very similar to the robots deployed in Israel to clean solar panels efficiently without water and without manual labor (can you imagine having the job of cleaning these boiling hot panels in the middle of the desert?), the NO-water Mechanical Automated Device (NOMADD) is completely self-sufficient.

One robot is attached to a row of solar panels and proceeds to brush over it once a day. This helps to rid the panels of dust, a regular feature in Saudi thatreduces energy efficiency by up to 60 percent after a dust storm, according to Treehugger.

Equipped with a brush that causes no scratches on the surface of the solar panels, the robots are great for water conservation, and they make sense from a labor perspective as well.

Related: Saudi to spend $109 billion to power a third of the nation with solar power by 2032

“No manpower is required for the operation of the NOMADD, beyond a single operator in a remote location who can oversee the site from a distance and observe the operational characteristics of each NOMADD device in real-time through remote sensor viewing and network communications,” according to the company literature.

And like a dream come true, the robots are actually fairly rudimentary, which means they’re not complicated to build and can be easily replaced in the event that one breaks down.

“The NOMADD is constructed from simply manufactured aluminium components, requiring a minimum of machining and using sections that are standard sizes,” the company continues. “Fittings are stainless steel, and the rollers are similar to those found on heavy duty lifting equipment. This makes the NOMADD superstructure and translation structure extremely rugged and durable, with no exposed perishable parts.”

Given the Kingdom’s $109 billion plan to power a third of Saudi Arabia with solar energy by 2032, these NOMADD robots should go a long way to reduce both energy and water consumption, while boosting the performance of solar panels.

:: Treehugger

Categories: Lifestyle

Desert tourism gets hot in Saudi Arabia!

Green Prophet - July 10, 2014

What’s a beach without a shoreline, or a dune perch that overlooks a horizon of…more sand? According to the World Tourism Organization, it’s the newest frontier in eco-tourism – welcome news for the Middle East.

Deserts hold huge potential when it comes to environmental tourism. For Saudi Arabia, largely covered by desert, the possibilities soar. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) is looking to transform Saudi deserts into cash machines by attracting adventurous people with a love for exotic nature and extreme sport.

Newfangled activities such as dune-riding and sand-surfing capitalize on alternative “powder” surfaces.

There are camel and horse races to observe or participate in. Looking for a trip with less testosterone? Try camping under tranquil nighttime skies unfettered by light pollution; hike and observe exotic animals and plant life in virgin oasis settings.

Mubarak Al-Salamah, head of the SCTA in Hail, explained the importance of kingdom efforts to protect the environment. The SCTA encourages private investment in wildlife parks and cultural festivals such as the Hail Desert Life Festival.

“There needs to be support for restoration of historical landmarks and handicrafts that are region-specific, building and expanding current walking trails, and tour operators that plan and organize tourism trips,” he told the Saudi Gazette, adding, “All parties should take into consideration the protection and preservation of the delicate desert environment to ensure it continues to exist for years to come.”

Desert tourism is especially appealing to foreign tourists who find the desert climate in stark contrast to home travel options. Saudi deserts are full of historical landmarks (Al-Hijr archaeological site and At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah are World Heritage sites) which reveal much about the waves of occupation that swept across the region.

“I have complete confidence in the success of this type of tourism if the basics are provided such as functional restrooms and campsites. Many Gulf countries have already implemented and succeeded in organizing family desert trips,” Ali Al-Eesa, a desert enthusiast, told the Saudi Gazette.

Jaffar Mohammed Sultan, a desert safari organizer in Al-Ahsa, added, “The desert’s most attractive feature is its two equally beautiful personalities — one in the morning and the other at night, which eliminates any feeling of boredom or redundancy that tourists might feel elsewhere. These features can attract tourists of different styles and tastes.”

Desert tourism would also creating seasonal jobs for local youth. But the downside in this part of the world where environmental legislation is largely open to interpretation (and only notionally enforced) is that uncontrolled development (and the tourism it invites) will jeopardize native plant and animal habitat, and damage fragile archaeology, killing the golden touristic goose before it’s fully hatched.

Image of sand dune skier from Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Dubai’s new air conditioned city to woo the wealthy elite

Green Prophet - July 09, 2014

Sheikh Zayed Road in Dubai will soon play host to the world’s largest shopping mall - the gargantuan Mall of the World. Comprised of 48 million square feet of over-the-top retail, residential, and even medical services, the covered pedestrian city is expected to attract some 180 million visitors a year. I shudder at the thought.

In terms of density, this new Dubai Holding development is on the right track. Mixed use development is widely considered to be desirable in an urban context, and linking areas of the city with public transportation as well. But there’s more that goes into a city to create a wonderful, vibrant and inspiring space — it’s got to have soul.

With 25 hotels linked to the mall alone, any semblance of soul is already lost as far as I’m concerned. Add to that a three million square foot wellness center and seven kilometers of retail, and this place is starting to sound like a certain kind of hell.

Dubai Holding attempts to compare their development to La Rambla in Barcelona, but it will never be anything like it.

The Mall of the World is pure consumerism, and a particularly gilded form of it rarely seen in our age of austerity, poverty, hunger and war.

I find it particularly hard to see this development in the context of Syria’s war; as widows are trying to raise their children in refugee camps, and missiles are raining on Gaza, why do some people insist upon perpetuating such irresponsible excess?

Nonetheless, here are some details:

The development will have three districts, namely the hospitality district, which will have a total of 20,000 hotel rooms, a cultural district, which holds some promise as it will include a cinema art school, and the wellness district, which will have among its many amenities a facility that provides “one-day surgeries.”

Dubai wants to become the new Mexico for the wealthy elite. And why you ask is this on a green site?

Well, in part because Dubai Holding claims that their mammoth temperature-controlled pedestrian city linked by a tram network and filled with hundreds and hundreds of stores selling stuff that is completely unnecessary is a responsible development.

“We are ready to move forward with this unique concept, whose distinctive offering and strategic location will play an instrumental role in advancing the growth of Dubai’s tourism sector,” said Ahmad Bin Byat, Chief Executive Officer of the company.

“The project will follow the green and environmentally friendly guidelines of the Smart Dubai model. It will be built using state-of-the-art technology to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint, ensuring high levels of environmental sustainability and operational efficiency.”

Sigh. I wish Dubai would follow the Masdar experiment in neighboring Abu Dhabi a little more closely. In any case, we expect this to be ready in time for Expo 2020 Dubai.

Categories: Lifestyle

“Smart herb garden” by Click & Grow will make you dumb

Green Prophet - July 09, 2014

I get that a lot of people don’t have any experience growing food and that city people might not have garden space, but so called high tech gardening has gone one step too far with Click & Grow’s exorbitantly expensive “smart herb garden.”

Amazingly, Click & Grow raised nearly $626,000 on Kickstarter for their plastic smart herb garden, which retails for about $100. They only asked for $75,000. Which means a lot of people around the world think this product is worth supporting.

The startup promises that people who don’t have a garden, who like to cook but never managed to keep a plant alive, and who are simply too busy can enjoy fresh herbs year round without doing anything but plugging the pot in and putting a bit of water in it.

Whilst people still have to take care not to cut off all the leaves at once and to ensure that the plants are receiving some natural light, pretty much the person who buys such a product is no closer to understanding the cycle of life after growing a full basil plant than they were before the seed was planted.

Related: LED lights a health hazard; new research from Israel

Several years of R&D culminated in a design that uses nanotechnology to deliver the requisite oxygen, water and nutrients to ensure that basil, thyme, mini tomatoes, or rocket salad are able to grow.

And instead of using the harshest LED technology, Click & Grow worked with engineers to develop a softer light that still only costs $3-4 per year in electricity costs.

When the first round of herbs are all gone, one need only purchase refill cartridges, which cost $6.95 each. Except for peppers, which cost nearly $10. And then all of this has to be shipped.

On the other hand, one could purchase a package of organic, heirloom winter thyme seeds, organic and heirloom being not only the healthy choice, but also the most expensive, for about $5. That package will contain enough seeds to last several plantings.

Seems to me it’s nice for people to have fresh herbs, but it’s not that hard to make them grow. And what better opportunity to learn than now? Seriously – we need to be deepening our connection to nature, whereas products like this alienate us even more.

Smart technology is making us dumb. And poor. It’s daylight robbery to spend money like this on herbs!

That being said, if you absolutely can’t make your own garden grow, and you’re in the Middle East, Click & Grow products are for sale in Abu Dhabi at the Virgin Megastore.

Images via Click & Grow ME

Categories: Lifestyle

Saving 3,000 year-old dates from Siwa Oasis in Egypt

Green Prophet - July 08, 2014

The people of Siwa Oasis have been growing dates for 3,000 years. And while they cultivate many varieties, three that are native to the desert community are close to extinction. Don’t worry too much, though, because the Siwa Community Development Environmental Conservation (SCDEC) group is working to save them.

Comprised of one member from each of 13 villages in Siwa Oasis (representing 10 different Berber tribes), the SCDEC strives to maintain the conditions that are necessary to maintain the endurance and integrity of this longstanding agricultural tradition – growing dates in brackish water in the middle of the desert.

Assisting the group with their efforts to manage 5,000 hectares of agricultural land under the Presidium project is the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. The group articulates their intention on their website.

“The Presidium’s goal is to promote the oasis’s highest quality dates on the national and international market, protect heritage date varieties at risk of extinction and assist growers to control the entire production chain – from planting to export – and to certify the product as fairtrade and organic.”

Related: Dates – a global history (interview)

Dates are planted on rehabilitated land in the Siwa Oasis. First the top soil is removed and replaced with a mix of sand and manure – probably from the many donkeys that are still used as a main form of transportation. That new mix is then flushed with fresh water.

Once the new plot has been laid, medicinal herbs are planted before palm, olive trees and other crops.

It takes 10 years roughly before a date palm tree will start producing fruit, but once it does, a single tree will produce roughly 110 pounds in a year. And they are hand picked.

Typically men, and I’ve witnessed this myself with Manar Moursi, who works with palm fiber artisans outside of Cairo, will scale the side of the soaring palm tree with nothing more than a fiber belt, and place the ripened fruit in a basket made of the same material.

The Siwa Oasis is itself endangered. Situated not far from the border with Libya and near the Mediterranean Sea, it is a sleepy village full of smiling, warm people. And while they fiercely protect their precious heritage, their community is also threatened by tourism, environmental degradation, and overall modernization.

Initiatives like this provide hope that not all special places will be ruined by the inexorable march of globalization.

Stock image of dates | Shutterstock

Categories: Lifestyle

Modular off-grid LivingBox grows fresh food without soil

Green Prophet - July 07, 2014

The team behind Living Green just won $20,000 to further develop LivingBox, an off-grid, modular system of growing food in urban spaces – without soil!

The Israeli company entered their concept into the Pears Challenge, which targets entrepreneurs that are developing solutions that can be applied in developing countries.

The Challenge welcomes submissions that address health, education, agriculture, water, ICT, and clean energy.

In this case, Living Green develops food growing systems that are affordable, can be implemented at home or scaled up for commercial farmers, and perhaps best of all, once they are set up, they are completely self-sustaining. This means they require zero electricity, soil or water to maintain.

There are three different kinds of LivingBoxes — one that relies on aquaponics, a closed loop system that uses fish waste to provide the nitrogen necessary for plants to grow, hydroponics, growing food in water, and a biogas system that – quite simply – uses food waste to produce organic, healthy fertilizer.

Related: Bulldozers raze ancient urban farm in Turkey

As far as we can tell, Living Boxes can be scaled up and down using any combination of the three techniques. They are delivered in one box, which is comprised of an array of smaller boxes, and are incredibly easy to use.

“The Livingbox is the perfect system, because it lets anyone anywhere grow vegetables without the need for fertile soil, or running water and electricity, and with minimal farming skills,” company co-founder Nitzan Solan told The Times of Israel.

“It could help feed people in the developing world, providing them with access to fresh, nutritious food, while helping them maintain a clean environment.”

Once users receive their boxes, they merely add water and seeds, and the relatively low-tech system essentially takes care of itself from there.

Noting that 70 percent of the global population are expected live in urban environments by 2050, Living Green proposes their system as an affordable means to grow nutritious food at home that will bolster people’s health and make them more resilient against disease.

The Pears Challenge is a collaborative competition hosted by the international Pears Foundation and Tel Aviv University.

:: The Times of Israel

Categories: Lifestyle

Nader Khalili-style dome home built by Palestinians for Palestinians

Green Prophet - July 04, 2014

So much disturbing news from Israel and Palestine in the last two weeks has left me completely exasperated, and I’m sure our readers can relate. Thankfully NPR gives us a brief respite with this great story of a Nader Khalili-styled dome home that a young Palestinian firm recently completed in Jericho.

Working with NASA as part of an initiative to design homes fit for space, Iranian architect Nader Khalili conceived the dome home as an affordable, accessible, easy to build, and environmentally sensible housing solution.

He first presented his Superadobe construction method, which involves stuffing bags full of readily available dirt and then stacking them in a circular form. The bags are held together with barbed wire, and then covered with lime plaster. Any holes are filled in with grout.

The resulting homes are so well-insulated, no air-conditioning is necessary in summer, and in winter, the thick walls retain enough heat to keep the interior space comfortably warm

In 1991, Khalili founded the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth), which continues to provide workshops and empower people around the world with these low impact structures.

Related: Nader-Khalili inspired eco resort in Oman wins big accolades from WAF

For SharmsArd, the young Palestinian firm that Ahmad Daoud commissioned to build his home in Jericho, building with Earth was an obvious choice that allows them to feel empowered in the context of the nation’s ongoing struggle against Israel’s increasingly aggressive behavior in the West Bank and Gaza.

One of the firm’s partners, Danna Massad, expresses their collective desire to operate independently of the foreign aid that so many Palestinians have to rely on to make any kind of respectable living in Palestine.

“I think the Palestinian society is oversaturated with international aid,” she tells NPR’s Emily Harris.

“Of course, we’re not the only example of a local business that refuses any kind of aid, but we can see how excited people get … to see how you can actually do something without being dependent.”

Despite some skepticism from his community, Daoud is chuffed with his new home.

“It’s an environmentally friendly house,” he told NPR. “I can tear it down and nothing will remain. In the summer, I don’t need air conditioning, and in the winter, I don’t need heat.”

Photos of the construction process taken from SharmsArd Facebook Page. Please head over to NPR for more details and a photograph of this beautiful home, which is now complete.

:: NPR

Categories: Lifestyle

Turkey subsidizes solar donkeys for shepherds

Green Prophet - July 03, 2014

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, a story pops up about donkeys in Turkey that carry solar panels so that shepherds, who are often out in the field alone for days at a time, have enough energy to power their laptops.

So much for nostalgia — instead of enjoying their time in nature, away from the insane hubbub of daily life on this hectic planet, shepherds want to be online just like everybody else.

And the government is helping them get there.

Ser-Gün, a local company that calls the solar-panels “plug-and-play donkey” charges some $1,320 for the privilege of having a source of green energy out in the field.

This is a lot of money for anyone, but especially so for a shepherd, so the government is contributing 50 percent of the funds to subsidize a plan to improve development in the countryside, where most people lack access to many of the amenities that urbanites have.

Related: The world’s coolest beekeeper’s helper is a donkey in Brazil

“The shepherds have a difficult time,” alternative energy analyst Ozgur Gurbuz told Fastco. “They live far away from the cities [and] towns and the only way [for them] to socialize is to watch TV or use [computers]. Solar power serves both purposes.” 

Rather unwieldy on the back of a donkey, the panels nonetheless produce five to seven kilowatts of power each day, which is said to be sufficient to power most laptops.

Of course, if the sheep are grazing in remote areas, the idea to ensure the shepherds can access the internet while on their extended journey might very well fail. Unless those donkeys are kitted out with some kind of fancy router as well.

Who am I to say a shepherd should mind his sheep and not the latest sports update? I’m online most of the day almost every day of the week. Still, I can’t help but long for simpler days - the days when a shepherd wouldn’t have dreamed of contaminating his serenity this way.

Nevertheless, the panels do also produce energy for light, which is said to be especially useful when the sheep are giving birth. And that’s something I can definitely get behind.

Image via Hurriyet Daily

Categories: Lifestyle

Finally – ‘smart’ vertical gardens that can beat the Middle East heat

Green Prophet - July 02, 2014

Green walls and rooftop gardens are great, but keeping them healthy in the Middle East and North Africa can be challenging. Green Studios, whose work in Lebanon we’ve featured once before, has an answer with their patented technology that ensures plants can flourish despite the extraordinary heat in our region.

“We wanted to develop something that is applicable to super-hot [climates],” Jamil Corbani, cofounder and CEO of Green Studios,” told Executive Magazine in a recent interview.

And in order to do this, they beefed up standard hydroponic growing techniques (that require no soil, and just a mineral nutrient solution to feed the greens) with smart technology that monitors plant health.

Their green walls are comprised of several layers of ‘skin’, the core of which comprises the irrigation network. Each skin has its own function, that – equipped with a series of sensors and nano-sensors – monitor and respond to the surrounding environment.

Data collected by the sensors will be sent to an electrical board, and if the temperature and humidity skyrocket and the plants need some love, that board will signal pumps to go off.

Related: Soaring vertical gardens at the Al-Sultan Ibrahim restaurant in Lebanon

The sensors monitor humidity, temperature, acidity, and electro conductivity of plants.

Founded by a small group, which consists of an architect, a landscape architect, landscape engineer and an economist, Green Studios now has 13 employees and have been commissioned to do no fewer than 30 patent-protected installations – in the Middle East and elsewhere.

According to Executive Magazine, the group is gearing up to install the largest green wall in the region – for Raouche 1090 – a massive residential development in Beirut.

So why do we care about green walls?

For a lot of reasons. Decorative green walls can help improve air quality by absorbing carbon dioxide emissions and then expel oxygen that humans require to breathe. They also provide a heat sink, which is particularly important in the Middle East where ambient temperatures are really high.

But if Green Studios decides to start implementing food crops in their green walls, then we’re really talking business – since productive vertical gardens in urban environments could help to offset growing food insecurity.

The company is heading to the United States later this year in order to expand their horizons.

“We are going to look at other players, what are they doing, get a feel of the market, and exhibit as well, who we are, what do we do, what is our philosophy, what is our product, and our patent,” Corbani told the magazine.

Hopefully they won’t stray too far from the Middle East. We need them here!

:: Executive Magazine

Categories: Lifestyle

Sunken trails create healing pilgrimage to bloody Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey

Green Prophet - June 30, 2014

At least 124,000 people were killed in the bloody eight month Gallipoli Campaign. Also called the Dardanelles Campaign, it was considered to be the Ottomans’ final push against the Allied forces. ONZ Architects and friends commemorate this collective wound with a breathtaking series of sunken trails on the Gallipoli peninsula.

With Lines of Memories, Gettysburg National Military Park meets the Appalachian Trail with an almost Japanese minimalist sensibility. All kinds of memorials and cemeteries are staggered throughout the peninsula to commemorate different battles and the dead from six nations.

The idea is to link all of the battlefields with walking paths, to help shift the common act of driving up to a historical site to take a picture without experiencing sincere feelings about the historic battle due to antiquated design.

Related: Gorgeous green-roofed Ostim Eco Park is an incubator for clean tech in Turkey

ONZ Architects and friends sink the walking trails, fill them with low-impact gravel and create tasteful site lines with strips of weathered steel that also contrasts beautifully with the verdant green landscape. They then plant wildflowers in ceremonial spaces, creating a soft and gentle space for visitors.

Visitors almost literally melt into the background, creating a tangible, physical connection with the Earth, a connection that will become, one hopes, the catalyst for some kind of spiritual recognition at least.

By taking multiple days to explore the various memorials scattered throughout a series of different ecological zones, a healing takes place, like a pilgrimage to other holy or spiritually significant sites. This is made possible by the design team’s signs and posts that help to direct the experience.

The design strives for such poetic elements as acoustic and visual silence – both useful whilst communing with nature, and it calls for the visitor to leave everything else behind so that they can be completely present in what amounts to a sacred experience.

To walk the pastures, meadows, forests, the hills and the valley, to actually walk the distance and brave the elements, is to better identify with the scale of sacrifice, and the tremendous courage and resilience shown by men (and women, to be sure!) on all sides of the war.

Lines of Memories is the result of a collaborative effort between ONZ Architects, MDesign, LOLA landscape architects and 24H Architecture. Together they recently won second prize in the Gallipoli Peninsula Historical Natural Park Competition.

We sure hope this thoughtful design will come to life.

Categories: Lifestyle

The beautiful painted earth homes of Burkina Faso

Green Prophet - June 30, 2014

Until the girls were abducted, I didn’t know much about Burkina Faso. And I didn’t think I wanted to know more until I stumbled upon Tiébélé, a village full of the most elaborately-painted earthen homes and mausoleums. Rita Willaert has a treasure trove of images on her flickr page. Hit the jump to see just a few – these are pure art.

These small mud brick homes are huddled together on an exclusive 1.2 hectare plot in the southern part of the landlocked West African nation, and they are fine specimens of vernacular Gourounsi architecture. Thanks to Rita’s excellent photographs, we get a real sense of the buildings.

Made with mud, wood, straw, cow dung and some white chalk, the homes are then burnished with stones, carefully so there’s no blending of colors, and coated with néré, a natural varnish taken from the locust bean tree. This unique artistry dates back to roughly the 16th century, according to Amusing Planet.

Related: Yemen’s ‘Manhattan of the Desert’ and 400 habitable clay towers

Getting there is an incredible honor. But the process is one that only the most committed travel writer would be willing to endure – it’s incredibly arduous.

Olga Stavrakis from writes about a 2009 visit:

It was only through a process of year long negotiations that we were permitted to enter the royal palace the entrance of which is pictured here. They were awaiting us and the grand old men of the village, the nobility, were all seated waiting for us. Each of the villages has muslims and animists (local religions) and no one much cares who believes in what. However, we were told in advance that we must not wear anything red and we may not carry an umbrella. Only the chiefly noble family is permitted that privilege and to do so would constitute a great affront to our hosts

The decorated homes are said to distinguish royalty from commoners. They were also built with defense in mind, hence the tiny two foot entrances, which will slow down anyone trying to storm the chief inside, and wooden ladders on the roof that can be retracted if need be.Kassena women, who can trace their ancestry to the 15th century, are traditionally responsible for interpreting their community’s cultural and religious symbols on the royal walls. They’re even encouraged to make their own creative designs as well – though the complex geometric diagrams are not random.

The community is guarded – as if they know they are endangered.

We were pleased and curious to find that the kitchens are simple with large clay pots over an earthen wood stove. And of course, earth buildings with lovely thick walls protect against harsh sunlight and solar gain, and even rain, when it comes.

:: Afritorial

All images with slight color adjustment courtesy Rita Willaert’s Flickr photostream

Categories: Lifestyle
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