The Cost of Speaking Out
How I already expended my stimulus check on Facebook ads
What were you up to this time last year? It’s not difficult to find that out nowadays if your life is documented online or if, like me, you take a lot of pictures and videos on your phone.
Our last beach cleanup before the lockdown happened during this time last year. It coincided with an outdoor event which was set up by the beach and you could hear the live music in our video footage from the activity. The weather was nice, and it was a good day to be outdoors and in good company. A few days later, the Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi announced its plan to make Abu Dhabi free of single-use plastic bags “by 2021”.
On 12 March 2020, Reuters published a picture of discarded disposable masks recovered en masse on the beaches of Hong Kong’s uninhabited Soko islands. Fast forward to 2021, plastic bags are alive and kicking in Abu Dhabi, and so are single use face masks, gloves and hazmat suits at the Emirate’s borders. Last weekend, we found a seagull dead and tangled in a face mask on a UAE beach.
Where do we go from here? What does the rest of this calendar year hold for us?
The easiest route for us as an entity would be to simply cease to exist, cease to act and cease to speak out. If global warming cannot be helped and if for impact to be realized it takes change on a policy level, why bother? The answer to the question is: because we are needed.
Let’s assume that the rich white men, a.k.a. the tax evading, minimum wage dodging, Coca-Cola drinking “tech titans” of this generation have the planet’s and humankind’s best interest in mind, is their contribution to furthering action on environmental issues enough? According to Bill Gates, and in his own words, no, it “requires all of society to get engaged; it’s not just one invention or one company” that can fix the current situation.
How is Bill Gates engaging all of society to furthering action on environmental issues? How is Jeff Bezos engaging all of society to furthering action on environmental issues? How is Elon Musk engaging all of society to furthering action on environmental issues? How is Mark Zuckerberg engaging all of society to furthering action on environmental issues? I’ll leave the questions out in the open and please feel free to comment.
Here in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), I have been working on engaging all of society to furthering action on environmental issues through ahlanwasahlan think tank llc, and I wish I could say my initiative was met with open arms or my opinion on why change for the better has not been materializing, was acknowledged for its value (priceless), but no, this has not been the case. For the past four years, I have been struggling, and to add insult to injury, existing government, corporate and now even academic institution backed players (pun intended) are actively plagiarizing our work.
I understand that the emotional distress I unnecessarily have to deal with only means that the culprits see something worthwhile in what we are doing as an organization, and that in their limited cognitive capacity, believe that they can do it better. Well, bring on the competition, here come our Facebook ads.
If the way to furthering action on environmental issues is to engage all of society, how do we reach all of society? If many members of our society will not pay to be engaged in environmental issues, should we limit our outreach to echo chambers?
For a long time, I did not want our outreach efforts as an organization to take place over “social” media because I preferred to reach out to people in person rather than through a screen and because I did not believe it was good to spend money and time on an advertising platform which exploited the undone seams in our social fabric. I have come to realize however, that Bob Hunter, the founder of Greenpeace, was right when he said that “if we wait for the meek to inherit the earth there won’t be anything left to inherit.”
Bob Hunter left Greenpeace when the group’s internal power struggle and the incorporation of what was essentially a guerilla movement weighed him down. He did relent to his meekness in the end.
The problem with those who attempt to plagiarize our work today, in the most simplistic way I can explain it, is that they are underestimating what it took for us to develop our worldview, the work we had put into our analysis and the struggles we continue to face as we maneuver around the obstacles in our way. Their privileged stance will hamper change.
The problem with the world today, in the most simplistic way I can explain it, is that many of us wake up in the morning believing that we have earned our privilege and are working to validate this belief in every way we can. The meek, on the other hand, wake up every morning wondering if their existence is worthwhile.
To answer the questions I posed at the beginning of this article, my reasons as to why I choose to do what I do are still valid. As an independent organization we have managed to schedule in at least 30 community activations this month and could do the same for the rest of the calendar year, but our work is still very much mostly unpaid. We are also unable to register ourselves in a way which will incentivize tax payers to donate to us in return for tax exemptions.
I can give up every day, just so you know.