Photo by Maxim Shatrov.

Above is the 1,053-foot-tall Burj Al Arab (Tower of the Arabs) hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, illuminated by both natural and manmade light.

The Burj Al Arab always struck me as a symbol of contrasts. It rises out of water, built upon its artificial island of reclaimed silt, announcing to the world the wealth of the United Arab Emirates; a symbol of all that is wrong with the oil-based economy and hyper consumption. I imagine the hotel gobbling up a steady stream of luxury SUVs along its private bridge. Consumption doesn’t get much more conspicuous than this.

That wealth, of course, is made possible by sitting on top of the world’s seventh largest reserves of petroleum and natural gas deposits.

But I also marvel at it. The gentle curve of its sail and resemblance to the sail of a dhow, the ancient Arabian vessel. A prominent example of the complex engineering projects mankind can undertake given the right combination of resources (and cheap labor, I suppose). Look at what we can do.

I wanted to share this photo, one, because it’s absolutely beautiful, and two, because I have been thinking a lot about how in our dialogue about sustainability and progress these two things are often pitted against each other, as if to say that we can’t have nice things and manage our resources and impact.

It’s true that we do have a finite set of resources (solar is also finite on a long enough time scale, but I’ll give you that it’s inexhaustible for our purposes). And our species has this amazing ability to build beautiful, useful things to make our lives better from this set of resources. We have been doing it since the first caveman clubbed another one over the head with a wooly mammoth tibia for claims to the watering hole. It’s one thing that defines us as a species.

Our ancestors mastering the use of tools in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Somewhere between Koenigsegg super cars and homemade granola is a place where we can respect the natural limitations of our environment while making the most of our time here.

I don’t think sustainability and technological progress (or comfort) are mutually exclusive. They just might not be as lavish as the Burj Al Arab.

Thanks to Maxim Shatrov for letting us share this stunning photograph with everyone. H/T to National Geographic.