For many, Cyclone Gonu, which hit the shores of Oman, Fujairah and Kalba in the UAE and Iran recently, and left behind it death and destruction, was a stark reminder that climate change and global warming may be yielding results sooner than we thought.

Suddenly, the environment and what man has been doing to it are in focus. Notes went on campus to collect young reactions to the much-debated issue of climate change and what they plan to do about it. We received a range of reactions from the "couldn't care less" to those from a student filmmaker passionate about raising awareness of the issue through films that will catch youth's interest.

How do you get the youth interested?

Areeba Hanif
Filmmaking student
SAE Institute

Honestly … who enjoys watching environmental documentaries on television? Would you really check out programmes on the life of polar bears and skip a good episode of CSI or maybe the OC if you are a soaps junkie?

How aware are we, as young adults, of what is happening to the planet and are we doing anything about it?

As her graduation project, Areeba Hanif, a filmmaking student at the SAE Institute, Dubai, decided to explore how environmental documentaries can be crafted to attract young adults.

Unfortunately not many candidates are coming forward to take part in her survey to find out how documentaries can be made to appeal to the youth.

"Thirty- and 40-year-olds are usually fascinated with these documentaries. The young generation is not — when they are the decision-makers of tomorrow and the drivers of change. Most films are boring, so we need to make them interesting to leave an impact," said Areeba.

The project Hanif is working on also stems from her interest in environmental change and global warming.

Answering a questionnaire

Areeba designed a research study to "enable filmmakers to identify what makes the environment appealing to a young audience". Her project involves working with a group of 30 to 50 people in the 12 to 20 age group.

"The first step is making these people fill a questionnaire in which they answer simple questions to assess their awareness about the environment. The questions are pretty simple, like do you throw trash in the street," she said.

Participants are then asked to watch five environmental documentaries which are followed by discussion sessions.
The movies include: Who Killed the Electric Car?, An Inconvenient Truth, Arabia The Cycle of Life, Alphabet Soup and a locally-produced children's documentary on natural life in the UAE.

Watching five movies

"The first documentary talks about the electric car concept and how giant car corporations have killed it because it is not profitable. Few people around the world have electric cars and the reason is that car companies work closely with oil organisations looking for profit,''"said Areeba. While Alphabet Soup looks at the consumption of plastic, Arabia The Cycle of Life "is basically a short film in which a son and his father sit and talk about wildlife in the UAE," said Areeba.

Interested in participating?

Areeba would love to get more participants for her study — a task that's proving to be the hardest part of her project! "I have started with a school, but now that it is the summer vacation, it is hard to catch the students and schools are shutting down," she said.

Areeba's efforts of putting up flyers and advertising in malls, has not helped a lot.

"It would be great if I can get people to come. SAE Institute has already given me permission to use its classrooms to show the movies. It's an easy process — all the participants need to do is fill the questionnaire, watch the movies, which I will show every week and then have a discussion," she said.
A surprise is also awaiting participants, said Areeba.

"Through the discussions, if someone comes up with a good idea, we can help him or her produce it, be it a music video, short film … and look for a television channel to air it," she said.

Areeba believes that one can send a message even through simple music videos. "I feel that musicians have not capitalised on the power of music and videos in helping the environment. We hold great concerts to spread environmental awareness, but even through videos we can do that," she said.

Aware but not concerned

But how concerned are we about the environment? According to Areeba, young adults "know of climate change and the rise in temperature because of the media, but I am not sure they are really concerned.

"This made me think that filmmakers can do a lot to influence young adults. It is one of our responsibilities to raise awareness and concern about our planet," she said.

If you are interested in taking part in Areeba's project, contact her at:

Did Cyclone Gonu have any link to climate change?

Cyclone Gonu is a natural phenomenon that hits the Arabian Peninsula every 30 years, according to Mohammad Raouf, senior environment researcher at the Gulf Research Centre.

Global warming may have been falsely blamed for the cyclone's occurrence, however, its effect should not be dismissed entirely.

Notes talked to Dr Jeremy Bendik-Keymer, Assistant Professor in International Studies at the American University of Sharjah who teaches a course on environmental ethics, about Gonu and the lessons learned from it.

He said that it is a "real stretch" to say that cyclones are caused by global warming. However, Bendik-Keymer said it is "likely - and likely is a key word - that global warming can make cyclones worse."

In November 2006, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) worked on a project to study the relationship between global warming and cyclones.

Bendik-Keymer said that findings showed that in the past five years there has been no evidence that cyclones were intensified by global warming. However, he said, the WMO found that the rise of temperature of 1C will lead to a three to five per cent increase in wind speed. "This means that should global warming continue, cyclones will get worse," he said. "When Gonu happened people jumped to the conclusion that it was caused by global warming. This is false."

Nature and us

But are there any lessons we all can learn from Cyclone Gonu?

"It's a fact that people from the beginning of time knew that nature is bigger than us and as modern people we tend to forget because we are inside technology," said Bendik-Keymer.

"Since global warming can make cyclones worse, nature is limited. We have the power to affect it and change it," he added.

More lessons ...

Cyclones may not be caused by global warming, but for sure what we are doing to the planet will eventually catch on, said Bendik-Keymer.

How concerned are students?

"There is part of students' minds that know it is serious and is concerned, but they just don't listen to it. Life is fast and there are many pressures and students think of their families and friends - it is hard to listen to that part of their mind," he said.

How to achieve change ...

According to Bendik-Keymer, to achieve change three things are necessary.

1) "It all starts with integrity and morals. People just need to grow up and take responsibility. They just need to do it themselves," he said.

2) "Also, the community is a big part of this. People need to get together to address the issue collectively... if a small group of people get together to make a difference, it will catch on and another group would want to do the same."
3) Lastly, our culture and our decision makers have a role to play, said Bendik-Keymer.

Gonu fact sheet: What was Gonu?

  • It is a tropical cyclone that hit the shores of Oman, UAE and Iran. The death toll from the tropical storm reached 70. Iran reported the death of 21 people, while 49 people were killed in Oman.
  • The storm hit Fujairah and Kalba in the UAE where salvage operations are underway.
  • In Ras Al Khaimah fishing is still banned because of high tides.
  • The cyclone that hit the Omani coast on June 5 forced the evacuation of thousands of people from Masirah Island in the Arabian Sea and closed the country's main gas export terminal.

Difference between a cyclone and a hurricane

The Beaufort wind scale is used to measure wind force. Its range from zero to 17 represents the force of winds, together with corresponding land or sea effects.

Beaufort 0 = Calm wind less than 1km/hour (0.6mph).
Beaufort 3 = Light breeze, 12–19km/hour (8–12mph).
Beaufort 11 = A storm, 103–116km/hour (64–72mph).
Beaufort 12 = 17 is a hurricane, 117.5–219+ km/hour (73–136+ mph).
The scale is named after its inventor, Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort.

A cyclone: System of winds, or a storm, that rotates inwards around a centre of low atmospheric pressure - depression. The winds flow counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. Cyclones are associated with cloudiness and high humidity. Strong tropical cyclones can give rise to hurricanes.

A hurricane: Wind of force 12 or greater on the Beaufort wind scale that measures wind force; intense tropical cyclone with winds ranging from 120 to 320km/h (75 to 200mph), known also as a typhoon in the Pacific. Originating over oceans around the Equator, hurricanes have a calm central hole, or eye, surrounded by inward spiralling winds and cumulonimbus clouds.

How did Gonu happen?

  • Cyclones regularly form in June. Most cyclones forming in the region happen over the Bay of Bengal, east of India. Those that form over the Arabian Sea, west of India, tend to be small and fizzle out before coming ashore.
  • This time upper air currents were responsible for bringing the storm towards the Arabian region.
  • The warm seas near Oman gave the storm extra energy that made it more severe once it hit.
  • According to a Gulf News report, Cyclone Gonu cannot be linked to climate change. "If another cyclone takes place say in a month, then perhaps we can say that climatic conditions in the region are causing this and it would be possible to relate it to climate change," said Mohammad Raouf, senior environment researcher at the Gulf Research Centre.
  • According to storm statistics maintained on Unisys Weather – a worldwide enterprise that provides industry and government with weather data services - the last storm of this size to form over the Arabian Sea was Cyclone 01A, which tracked northwest along the coast of India from May 21 to 28, 2001. Unlike Gonu's forecast track, Cyclone 01A's path never brought it ashore.

How are cyclones named?

Giving names to cyclones began in 2004. Names are chosen from a list of 64 submitted by eight countries in the region. Only nine of the names have been used in the past three years; generally, no more than five storms hit the northern Indian Ocean each year.

What does Gonu mean?

Gonu, submitted by the Maldives, describes a thatched bag used to carry chickens, though the bags - so also the word - are fairly rare these days.

Information courtesy:, Associated Press, and Gulf News

Professor helps conserve water

It is rare to find organisations taking an environmental stand on an issue. Zayed University has. The water attractions at the university are powered by the water from air conditioners. Re-cycling the water has saved the university more than Dh800,000 since it started. By 2012 the university will save Dh1.5 million on water and energy.

The project was started in 2003 by former Zayed University facilities manager and engineer Tahseen Ahmad Haymour.
"We made a complete study of energy conservation at the university. We noticed that during the summer and because of the humidity the amount of water generated from the air conditioning system is huge," he said.

"We gathered the water and used it for ... fountains, ponds and pools," said Haymour. "The water is also used to cool the A/C systems."

According to Haymour's calculations, the university will save the most during July, August and September.

Haymour used his energy conservation project in his master's degree thesis in facilities management, which he presented at the University of Leeds. "Facilities management is not a very well-understood term in the Middle East region. It is responsible for coordinating all efforts related to planning, designing and managing buildings and their systems, equipment and furniture," he said.