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18 October 2020

In this video (in order of speaking):


Safi Roshdy, Founder of ahlanwasahlan think tank llc

Indira Aitkulva, Research Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 November 2020 )

Yaghsha Mir, Research Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 December 2020)

Syed Umair Hussain Shah, Outreach Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 November 2020)

Maha Al Qemzi, Research Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 November 2020)

Hanzalla Usman, Outreach Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 November 2020)

Salma Abdelaziz, Outreach Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 November 2020)

Stuti Susan Jerald James, Volunteer at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 November 2020)

Nejat Mussa, Research Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 November 2020)

Iris Abu Sham, Research Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 18 October 2020)

Syed Ibrahim Mustafa Gillani, Outreach Intern at ahlanwasahlan think tank llc (8 October - 7 November 2020)


Below is the transcript along with the timestamps:


00:05 On being thankful


Safi: Ahlanwasahlan! We always like to begin by saying "alhamdolelah" which is an expression of gratitude and humbleness; it's a reminder that we are living relatively priveleged and comfortable lives, that we have running water and electricity, that we are not suffering from hunger or poverty, and that we have made it through the Covid-19 pandemic. The least we can do is look into how we can contribute to make a difference.


00:32 In the absence of the right to vote


Indira: In the absence of the right to vote, there are ways to influence decision making and these include consumer pressure, volunteering, raising awareness and corporate pressure. Social media are also providing the space to share resources, petitions and links for donations on a mass scale. Of course, the choices we make matter, and in many cases, big companies and brands are reaching out to us with their sustainability campaigns in order to appeal to us and increase their sales. 


01:06 On making informed choices


Yaghsha: It can be argued that Procter & Gamble is one of these companies who proclaim in their sustainability campaigning that they are not only focusing on reducing their own carbon footprint but that of their customers. However, they have come under criticism, especially given the attention paid to toilet paper during the lockdown, because they have been using 100% virgin forest fiber for their Bounty and Charmin brands, and also because, they have not been paying enough attention to their Scope 3 emissions which are at least 98% of their total emissions, according to the company’s own reporting.

And while Procter & Gamble did recently introduce a recycling model, which aims to reduce waste, and is developing durable and refillable packaging, these initiatives have only been introduced in developed countries, not in developing countries where the company has been identified by an environmental group as amongst the worst offenders for plastic pollution. Procter & Gamble is also among 10 companies which have been sued by an environmental advocacy group and have been requested to halt the marketing and promotion of products that state or imply they are recyclable when they are not. 


Pantene, incidentally, is also a Procter & Gamble brand, and has among its celebrity endorsers, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who hosted the Action session during the Global Launch of TED Countdown.

Umair: According to a study, people are willing to pay up to 20 per cent more for a product, depending on who endorses it. Knowing the influence that celebrities exert over consumers, companies are increasingly investing in their use of advertising, to persuade consumers. Advertisements featuring celebrities also tend to increase the value of the company on the stock exchange as they influence investors’ perceptions of the endorsed company. 


Nowadays, new media channels are providing a new method for creating aspiring celebrities worldwide.


03:04 About the influencer business

Maha: It is a lucrative business for so called ‘influencers’ who can earn ad cash through partnership programs, corporate sponsorships, affiliate marketing, display advertising and sponsored posts or brand destination campaigns. This makes us question, why some true influencers who are working to make the world a better place do not have a large following and are not as famous. An example is Lois Gibbs, whose children and neighbors faced serious medical problems because they unknowingly lived next to 20,000 tons of toxic chemicals. She found out that there was no organization to address this problem, and established one: the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in the US.


03:47 On the importance of advocacy


Maha: Through her [Lois Gibbs] example we recognize the importance of advocacy, and the importance of working on the ground to effectively address environmental issues. 

Indira: There are advantages to having popular celebrities improve the visibility of NGOs. They can also play a big role in fundraising, given their huge fanbases. The disadvantage is that celebrities tend to simplify complex problems and use their participation in advocacy to enhance their own image. 

Maha: A research study about celebrity involvement in environmental campaigns and on the role of celebrities in climate advocacy has findings on both ends of the spectrum. On one end, there are those who believe that celebrity engagement leads to greater public awareness, participation and discussion on the politics of climate change. On the other end, there are those who argue that celebrity intervention can distract public attention. 


Celebrity involvement can also prove hypocritical. For example, Billie Eilish made a video addressing the “Climate Emergency” and received backlash for putting the pressure on everyday working class people. Her attempt at a public service announcement titled “Our House is on Fire” also backfired when she collaborated with the fashion brand Bershka. 


05:12 About the real challenge


Safi: Another way celebrity involvement in climate advocacy can backfire is in their promotion of products which are intended to solve a problem but do not address that problem holistically. 


Jaden Smith, for example, hosted the Leadership session during the Global Launch of TED Countdown and is listed on the program as an advocate for a cleaner world. He is the co-founder of JUST water which he explains came into existence in order to eliminate as much plastic as possible, and to make it easier for people to be part of the solution. He launched the brand after reportedly seeing plastic floating around him while surfing, and the brand boasts that it has kept nearly 4.4 million pounds of carbon from being released into the environment, and that each carton of JUST branded water is a step in the right direction. 


One problem is that the recycling rate for cartons in the US is only 16% according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Also, the packaging which is 43% plant-based plastic, will not readily biodegrade if it finds its way into the ocean. 


In order to minimize fossil fuel emissions from plastic, the JUST water brand has resorted to certified wood. The question is, do we need packaged water? 


06:37 On employing media for outreach


Maha: According to psychologists, the purpose of media entertainment is gratification. Story telling was employed over history for entertainment but is also the means in which people passed on their history from one generation to the next. Today, this story telling takes the form of social media posts, movies, novels, etc. Earlier, a story or an issue could be presented in a theater or a music hall, today we have access to it through our electronic devices.


07:07 On becoming influencers


Hanzalla: We are all familiar with procrastination and are guilty of it in one way or another. But we can also tell when an issue is important and when it deserves our immediate attention.

Salma: We were able to put this research together and produce this session in less than 10 days of participating in this internship program, and at the same time managed to fulfill our obligations as university students. 

Stuti: During these 10 days, we discovered that many of our daily consumption habits can have an adverse effect on the environment. 

Nejat: And that actions we barely give thought to, have socio-environmental implications beyond our geographic boundaries.

Iris: We cannot wait for a disaster to unfold to begin to take notice of the issue at hand. 

Ibrahim: We can remind ourselves that the roots of modern day solar power can be traced back to 1839 when then 19-year-old physicist Edmond Becquerel is credited to have discovered the photovoltaic effect and to have created the world’s first photovoltaic cell. 


So, while it is relatively a little too late, we are never too young to make a difference and everyone of us can be an influencer even if we do not become famous, are not celebrities and are not paid for it.  

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