It’s not often that one gets an opportunity to try to influence those who are engaged in setting a new course for a crucially important part of the world. But it was a privilege that my friend Bill Nicholson and I had this past week at the Middle East Economic Future Conference in Doha, Qatar, where we were among the featured speakers on a panel whose purpose was to emphasize why environmental considerations should be playing a key role in the region’s development and how that might best be accomplished.
The panel on “Green Innovations for Growth in the Middle East” was one created and moderated by my colleague Melissa McGinnis, the host of the Greenopolis Web TV show, at the invitation of his excellency, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Khalifa Al-Thani, and working with UCLA’s Center for Middle East Development. Appearing with us was Roberta Ballabio, Programme Officer and Analyst in Middle East geopolitics for the Landau Network – Centro Volta (LNCV), a nonprofit NGO based in Como, Italy and supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The blue-and-gold colored setting in the main hall of the convention center was one that conveyed a living-room feeling of intimacy with the audience, which consisted of approximately 500 representatives of 80 different countries.
Bill, who’s currently the CEO of Idea Sphere, Inc., and who served as appointments secretary to President Gerald Ford, told the gathering about the utilization of ocean currents to produce energy, a cutting-edge concept now being implemented off the Miami coast, and about how the anti-obesity campaign has become a “green” initiative as well as a health-oriented one. Roberta talked about the project in which she is currently engaged in Jordan — cleaning wastewater with the stone zeolite – as an example of the solutions provided by nature, and about the benefits to society of organic agriculture. When my turn came to speak, I used it to talk about Greenopolis and the importance of recycling, especially in this part of the Middle East where all drinking water has to be imported and bottled (desalinated local water not being suitable for drinking purposes).
As with other locales I’ve visited recently like Cape Town and Sao Paulo, all bottles used in Qatar are made from heavy gauge plastic with three times the plastic content of those now used in the U.S., yet there is no formal infrastructure for recycling. It’s no wonder we have plastic gyres in the ocean. And when you combine that with the fact that eight percent of the world’s oil is currently being used in plastic manufacturing, just think about the positive environmental impact that would result if recycling and reuse were practiced on a worldwide basis.
It’s my belief, in fact, that recycling could be a major part of the solution to the problem of the lack of opportunity for young people in the Middle East– a theme I’ll explore further in the blog that follows. The issue, however, is one that I got to understand a lot better thanks to another one of the speakers at the conference – none other than the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was in the audience for our “green” panel talks, and whose own panel on the recent Arab uprisings (which also included the Emir, the prime minister of Yemen, and the foreign ministers of Sweden, France and Portugal) we likewise attended. We later accepted a dinner invitation from the reverend and his son, Jonathan, and were subsequently invited to a meeting he was addressing that got us involved in some highly informative discussions of job creation for the millions of Arab youths. who are currently unemployed. This conversation, in turn, led to a “sandstorm” of meetings, activities and actions , some of which I hope will bear fruit.