Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

'OK, so I was wrong about Oman. It isn't eco-friendly'
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The Independent Online

I'm feeling guilty about last week's column, in which I described a trip to Oman for my sister's wedding. Donnachadh, my eco coach, has just rung and had a fit. "How can you write that Oman is a remotely eco-friendly destination?" he spluttered. Of course he's quite right. I was trying to look on the bright side.

Yes, Oman is more environmentally-conscious than Dubai, but then isn't everywhere? I mean Dubai maintains ski slopes in 110F temperatures!

As Donnachadh pointed out, the Gulf is really too hot 80 per cent of the year to properly sustain human life. Until the oil explosion in the Seventies brought riches and with it constant air conditioning, the life expectancy of the average Omanese was only 46, compared with 74 today. No one would deny anyone a more comfortable life, but artificially cooling the desert in this way encourages expats and tourists (mea culpa) and the resulting vast tribe of employees to look after them.

According to Unesco, the population of urban Oman is growing at an average rate of 9 per cent per year, compared to the world average of 2.4 per cent. All these new residents use air conditioning, run cars and need ice for their drinks. Consequently the per-capita carbon consumption is as much as the US and has tripled in the last 20 years.

So this week I am feeling a bit shame-faced. The trouble is I am half Catholic, and although my father is now lapsed, (so he says, but these left-footers usually change their minds at the last moment like Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited), I still seem to have inherited all his lapsed Catholic guilt despite being a practicing Buddhist for 15 years. So even though I gave details about how to reach Oman by train last week, please disregard them and go to the British seaside instead. This is what I'm going to do from now on. To recover from my unsustainable trip to Oman, my squeeze and I enjoyed a weekend in Camber Sands near Rye in Sussex.

Rye is as lovely as Muscat, completely free of chains (I counted three Costa coffee shops in Oman, but none in Rye) and full of quirky shops and independent coffee shops. It's saturated in bloodthirsty English history and our taxi driver recently spotted Paul McCartney about the town. This is more exciting than anything Muscat has to offer and it's only a two-hour train ride from home, as opposed to six days.

Our hotel in Camber also had a rigorous eco policy as befitting its position overlooking one of England's most unspoilt beaches. Most of the food was local and organic, with non-threatened fish caught by local fishermen in Hastings.

Meanwhile, Donnachadh is threatening to come round with his recycled clipboard to work out my carbon footprint. I am to give details of all the flights I've taken in the last 12 months so he can work out how much money I must give to the Carbon Trust.

I can't bear it. I feel another sudden trip coming on. This time I may be gone for quite some time. I hear Bexhill is glorious at this time of year.