Below transcript from a session we held on 1 October 2020 for NYUAD students will provide you with a brief overview of why we exist.
Also, do check out this article: Reflections On Being An Environmentally Conscious Startup At An Entrepreneurial Event.
Climate Action: Investing Your Existence
By Safi Roshdy
We usually start the session by saying “alhamdulelah,” which in Arabic means “thank God,” that we’re able to meet, that we are able to talk about the things that we talk about as an organization, that we’re able to do the work that we’re doing, because in other less privileged countries, they don’t have that privilege or opportunity because of hunger or poverty or war. Also, everyone of us who is here managed to survive Covid-19, the recent development, that we all as a world had to deal with.
Ahlanwasahlan means “hello and welcome,” and it’s the way we bring our environmental and social interest to the world. Everyone is welcome to participate, everyone is welcome to share their insight, and we’re all working towards a common goal which we believe is important, and which we believe needs to be brought to the forefront of the conversation.
When we’re usually interacting over the internet, it’s important for us to realize that everything we do has a carbon footprint - this session, you’re being here; just because you’re in your dorm rooms doesn’t mean that we’re not expending energy. The internet is using energy, and we tend to take this privilege that we have - everything is running, my phone is connected to the internet, I can access anything I want, I don’t have to turn it off and on - we tend to take these things for granted. Through our work, we’re trying to make the most of, and constantly remind ourselves of what we have, the opportunities that we have and how we can use them for good. In some countries, they don’t have running water, there’s no electricity; for us, the fridge is always there, it’s always on, so these things are important to take into account. And we have free flowing running water; we have clean drinking water that we don’t have to work to get. Also, living in the UAE and you being NYUAD students, there is a diverse student body, that you have access to as well, and that’s great, because the environmental concern is a global concern.
So you’ll take this work that we’re working on with you, no matter what you choose to do with your life. Every organization right now, and every political leader in every country is being held accountable as to what they’re doing to address the environmental concerns, whether it be through the UN or through business interests, or investor interests. Last week, there was a big event in New York, Climate Week, and a lot of the big companies were involved. There was an artwork, Doom’s Day Clock, and it’s a way to address that this is an emergency. I’m not sure if everyone of us is actually conscious of the sense of urgency that the world is going through. We can get very insulated, by living our lives, or going to classes, from this issue, so through this work that we’re doing we’re constantly having climate change on our mind, and the fact that we can do something about it as individuals in every walk of life, and through the work that you are professionally going to be doing later on.
According to the UN, it’s the decade of delivery; they set goals that are to be accomplished by 2030. Whether or not the countries, or the organizations that are addressing their emissions are actually going to reach the goals that were set is another issue. I was skeptical about the fact that Walmart were the main sponsors, sponsors of the opening ceremony for Climate Week NYC. To what extent is Walmart addressing their environmental, and negative social footprint is open to questioning. It’s important to keep questioning, and as an organization, that’s what we do. For example, an environmentalist posted that in 2005 Walmart announced their goal to be 100% supplied by renewable energy but in 2019 Walmart was only 29% powered by renewables. Since 2005, what has Walmart been up to and why isn’t more being done despite the profits or revenues being made?
Part of what we’re doing is very current. As an organization, there’s always new developments that are happening and that we’re trying to address. This is why, what interns would do, is very relevant. There’s always news and research coming out, and that news is not necessarily being communicated to the community or to stakeholders. This is where the outreach and research comes in. It’s very important and interesting at the same time, because you can figure out where the best practices are happening, and communicate that to the decision makers. One of the things we did was that we communicated the fact that there was a statement signed by researchers and scientists from all over the world, over a hundred of them, where they declared that reusables are safe to use during the pandemic. We relayed that paper, for example, to the Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi, who had recently come up with the Single Use Plastic Policy (they have a policy in place to eliminate single use plastic over time, starting with plastic bags, but with Covid-19 everything is on hold). This is what we can do, as an entity, reach out, and also reach out to the different restaurants, the food and beverage outlets, and let them know that this [reusable use] is possible.
In the UAE, we have a very business friendly environment, but at the same time, the UAE has signed the Paris Agreement, so they are participating, as opposed to the US, which is withdrawing from it.
A lot of the research that is happening, is happening elsewhere in the world, and the alternatives that are being proposed might not necessarily apply to the UAE. For example, what are the alternatives to single use plastic? At the end of the day, we are in an oil producing country. Are the alternatives bioplastics? We communicated the fact that bioplastics have their issues, they do not decompose in landfill, if they end up in the waterways they pose as much a threat as other plastics, and they’re being shipped from somewhere else. So the solutions that are applicable somewhere else, are not necessarily applicable in the UAE, and this is where we come in.
We do community activations, we do workplace activations, we have a session coming up on waste management, on the 31st of October “Waste Horror Stories.” We try to play around with things, to make things fun for us, even though the situation is depressing, but we’re doing what we can, and that’s the idea. You do what you can in every walk of life, whatever it is that you’re studying, whatever it is that you plan on doing later on. This social awareness of what is important in life is the essence of why we’re doing what we’re doing.
I was born and raised here, so my work is personal. Here, I do not have political representation, so what we’re doing is one way to go about it. We’re partnering with government agencies, and to operate in the country, you also need to have a visa; so in order to be instrumental or to do what you want, you have to make sure you don’t lose that visa.
Our work is not money generating. We had to register as a private entity because we did not want to have any conflict of interest. There are regulations that we have to abide by; in the UAE we cannot accept donations. Climate Week NYC, which was sponsored by so many corporates had a “Donate” button on their website. We recently put out paid membership plan; everyone is able to join our organization for free, but there is now a paid membership option, and that’s one way we can generate the money to cover our operating expenses.
So every business out there, at the end of the day, is looking to make money, and that’s the way the world works, but are they taking for granted the fact that they have to account for their negative social and environmental impact, and that they have to be honest with the people? So, this is where we come in.
There’s a lot of information out there, it’s the Information Age, we’re being bombarded with it from every medium, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s coming from an unbiased source, and what’s happening is that a lot of the ads and a lot of the news that is out there is being paid for, sponsored by, business interests, so this is where we come in. We look beyond the news; we try to provide an unbiased source of information, so that community members like us, are better informed in order to make better decisions.
It’s a learning endeavor for everyone involved. There’s always news, and that’s the interesting part. There’s always research coming out, and potential solutions.
I wish this was also paid. The idea is also to have these positions paid eventually. I know I didn’t receive a salary for 3 years now. Eventually, the value of what we’re doing will be relevant.
I cannot envision myself doing something else. At some point, it can get very depressing, when you don’t have others taking you seriously, but the more you persist - of course you cannot disillusion yourself, you have to be realistic - but the more you persist, the better things get.