A guest post by Candace Rowell MPH. Candace is an alum of the University of Michigan School of Public Health Department of Environmental Health Sciences, and a former contributor to Mind The Science Gap.  She is currently a research associated with the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute in Doha, Qatar.

The traffic in Doha is horrendous. Ask anyone who lives here. It might take you 45 minutes to commute a mere 15 km. The summers are brutal – the temperature bounces around the 50⁰C mark and the humidity threatens to drown you on the doorstep.

Yes, this is Doha; this is a landscape of harsh arid conditions and congested development. But this jungle of sci-fi architecture is a land of development, creativity, and innovation.  This is the appropriate place for the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the 8th Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP8).

This place, Doha, is a land of new beginnings and a platform for breaking the rules of convention. In a time when we need big change, big ideas and the gumption to break the barriers of “what we have always done” we need to gather at the hubs of change and development. So we gather in Doha, Qatar.

I’m new here. I’ve been here working for the Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI), an institute of Qatar Foundation (QF), for approximately 12 weeks, 2 days, and 4 hours. I’m a research associate (which means I’m low on the totem pole) and I’m just starting to get into the groove of my life here. And it’s tough. This is a harsh environment that not even the humid summers of South GA could prepare me for. But it’s an environment worth saving- and the people here know it.

On this 18th anniversary of the Conference of Parties (COP18) I’m disappointed at the negative press that Qatar is getting. It cannot be denied that there are environmental concerns here. It cannot be denied that the development is rapid and the effects are great. BUT it cannot be denied that Qatar is setting precedence for environmental concern and priority that have never existed. Develop first, worry later. This has been the motto of countries for years and continues to be.  My home is no exception. Now, a country with one of the fastest growing GDP in the world is attempting to do it the right way.

I don’t want to use the word sustainability – I think this word has become more complex and less meaningful than I choose to delve into. But I will say that, from my perspective, Qatar is attempting to balance their dramatic economic and industrial growth without disregard for their environment. Annually, Qatar commits 2.8 % of its GDP to scientific research, this includes environment. This is a change in development that should be celebrated, should be acknowledged. Who have we, let’s use the word “environmentalists”, become that we give credit to no one for their efforts? Who are we that doom a gathering of the world’s leaders to discuss climate change mitigation before it even begins?

Our predecessors, those who worked to bring the environment and it’s connection to our daily lives into the lime light, I think, they would cringe to read the headlines, cringe to see us shoot ourselves in the foot. Now is not the time for condemning those that try, now is not the time for cynicism, now is the time to acknowledge change can happen, is happening. Now is the time to encourage our leaders to make decisions for the good of our life and the good of our children’s lives. Now is the time, in the hot arid country of Qatar, to encourage one another to continue the pursuit of an environmentally responsible civilization.

You can find out more about what’s happening in Qatar here.

Candace Rowell