It’s the drought but it’s not just the drought: California is currently facing unprecedented environmental challenges. It might not seem like they have a lot in common, but Saudi Arabia can teach California how to deal with its current water, energy, and transportation crises. Because, in a way, looking at Saudi Arabia is like looking into California’s future.
Saudi Arabia might be desert but like many arid regions it also has a vast aquifer beneath it that’s recharged by seasonal rain—the country used to grow a wide variety of food. Until their aquifer dried up. Due to farmers overtaxing the underground water supply, millennia-old springs and oases suddenly disappeared. Crop production plummeted and food prices skyrocketed. Once fertile farmland is now going unplanted. This is the last season farmers will be growing any wheat, for example. California currently produces about 80% of the food for the US and even with the drought, the state hasn’t really seen a reduction in yield. Why? Because strict groundwater regulations have yet to go into effect. Agricultural concerns have extracted so much groundwater the Central Valley is sinking. California has to stop this before it destroys its land and livelihood forever.
Know what uses up a lot of energy? Moving water around. You know where we’re getting that energy? Fossil fuels. The Saudis are going solar at an astonishing rate. Think about that for a minute: Nowhere is oil more plentiful, but the Saudis are choosing solar. Why? Exporting oil might mean big money for some Saudis but the market has become unreliable. A blisteringly fast population growth paired with aging energy infrastructure (hmmm, sound familiar, California?) has made the decision easy for many people who can easily install solar at home. Plus, falling solar prices have made the technology accessible to many residents, and let’s just say the sun isn’t going anywhere. California has made great strides to switch to solar, but let’s hope that the Clean Power Plan moves more of the state away from fossil fuel reliance.
One of the most congested parts of Saudi Arabia is a corridor between the Holy Cities of Medina and Mecca, which becomes congested with pilgrims, especially right now, as an estimated 1 million Muslims have arrived in Mecca for the hajj, a mandatory religious pilgrimage (this is also where the horrific crane accident happened Friday). The Haramain High Speed Rail project was proposed to take those cars off the road but it will also provide some much-needed transit infrastructure for Saudis. The project is behind schedule but is planned to open this December (and with construction starting in 2009, that’s not too bad). In addition to offering a quick and easy way for tourists and pilgrims to travel between Medina and Mecca, it will also connect major cities and airports. With about 280 miles of track, that’s just a bit shorter than California’s proposed High Speed Rail network. In fact, Saudi Arabia’s is part of a larger, $20 billion plan called the Gulf Cooperation Council Railway, or GCC, connecting all six Gulf states with 1,350 miles of train lines. The US can dream.
AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy