The Green Sheikh - One World, One People: One Source of Water
By Brioné LaThrop
". . .A true leader seeks authenticity and ‘originality’ to seed true values,"
H.H. Sheikh Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Nuaimi
I remembered standing around bonding with a dozen or more people in the BrandMoxie offices on the last day of the Global Unity Games, long after His Highness completed his presentation, One World One People: Leadership in Energy Sustainability and Transition on the International Day of Peace. An intimate hour spent in the Sheikh’s company felt like a session with a Life Coach gentling guiding and cheering you towards change. His Highness’ sobering words seemed to resonate with many in the room that evening and have since remained with me to this day. “You came to this life with nothing and you will leave this life with nothing . . . only your good deeds! So, what is your legacy? What will you leave behind and in front of you?,” he queried the audience.
An Arab Prince who hails from one of the wealthiest oil rich countries on the planet seems an unlikely champion of the environment. Yet, the United Arab Emirates’, Sheikh Dr. Abdul Aziz Al-Nuami, a highly regarded global change agent on environmental planning and sustainability, affectionately known as the Green Sheikh to the international community, has dedicated almost three decades of his life fighting climate change and protecting Mother Earth.
Sheikh Al-Nuaimi is a member of the royal family and nephew to the ruler of Ajman, one of the UAE’s seven Emirates. He is also the official Environmental Advisor to the Ajman Government, the International Senior Board Advisor at WANA (West Asia North Africa) Forum in Jordan, Honorary Member of the Arab Thoughts Forum, chaired by H.R.H Princess El Hassan bin Talal, the CEO of one of the Emirates leading charities, Al Ihasan Charity Association, the Chairman of the International Steering Committee for the Global Initiative Towards a Sustainable Iraq (GITSI), UAE, Chairman of Green Base Environmental Services, the founder of the Majlis for Holistic Knowledge and Holistic Health and Honorable President of the Zayed Environmental Impact Network, at UAE's Zayed University.
His highness’ early education and career path took a similar route to that of many Arab royals. He studied and obtained a diploma in Military Science from the prestigious Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, went on to receive a Bachelor’s in Chemical and Petroleum Engineering. Shortly after the awarding of his Bachelor’s, Sheik Abdul Aziz’ spent a few years working in the Petroleum industry. The growing awareness of the negative impact on his health and those around him led to a divergent path from most of his peers. It was during this period when, Sheikh Al-Nuaimi shifted his focus to the environment. He received a Masters in Environmental Management, followed by a PhD in Cleaner Production and Industrial (Ecology) Eco-Systems. In 2004, with a new moniker, the Green Sheikh, was awarded first prize for his doctoral research on Sustainable Development at the Air & Waste Management’s 97th Annual Conference and Exhibition, Indianapolis USA. He has since received numerous national and international honors as he continues his local, regional and global work for the planet.
The Sheik’s passion for the environment was instilled in him at an early age by his teachers; the former ruler of Ajman, his grandfather Sheikh Rashid, his father, Sheikh Ali, the current ruler of Ajman his uncle Sheikh Humaid and the nation’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed. Emirati’s were natural conservationists, protecting the land and its resources were a harsh reality in the arid backdrop of the desert. Record-breaking temperatures and environmental disasters prove that development doesn’t always equate with progress. As such, the Green Sheikh believes the key to saving the environment is reminding people of the spiritual and cultural heritage that mandates environmental stewardship in all the world’s religions, including Islam.
“And it is He (God) who had made you successors (khala’ifa) upon the earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees . . . (Qur'an 6:165)
“You are the messengers of the Messenger! You are charged with protecting this planet in different disciplines; business, education, environment, media in whatever capacity you can,” expressed the Green Sheikh. His Highness went on to impress upon the audience how short life truly is and how little time remains for us to make a difference. Perhaps this urgency was sparked by his adventure to taste death, as he volunteered to be entombed alive for 20 minutes a few years ago. It appeared to be a profound experience that left the Sheikh shattered, and yet renewed with a new sense of wonder and commitment to be even better during his short sojourn on the planet. “I’m ready to return to work, to plant, harvest and give to those in need and commit the rest of my life to making a difference,” he pledged.
The sense of urgency to make a positive change is like a window into the Sheikh’s heart that he works to ignite in others. He asked a colleague in the audience how much time he felt he had to live, acknowledging that only God truly knows our appointed hour, the Sheikh asked his friend Salem for a rough estimate. Salem at 47 years old, thought he might have twenty more years left, God willing. However, the Sheikh was quick to disabuse him of that future. He went on to ask about Salem’s 60 hour work week, which reduced his twenty years in half to ten, then moved on to his habit of only 4 hours of sleep, which further cut down that time to five years; throw in commuting, eating, playing and Salem is left with only two short years to leave his footprint. There wasn’t a person in the room that wasn’t making their own mortality calculations and perhaps reframing their view of the fragility of the world around them.
Sheikh Al-Nuaimi transitioned his talk about our time for action to focus on presenting solutions to reducing our environmental footprint and saving our most important resource, water. Last year, His Highness collaborated with the Centre for Global Education and TakingITGlobal to launch the Blue Youth project. Their goal was to connect the voices of more than 10,000 youth from every continent on earth, using technologies and social media tools, to collaborate, build consensus, and create community that transcends time and location, while facilitating the world's largest synthesis of youth opinion on the future of our planet's water challenge at UN COP22.
"Young people will be the most affected by water pollution, control and access challenges, Sheikh Abdul Aziz said. It is an essential resource for life and must be secured for all populations. Thus, we came up with a new, yet simple idea, to train the youth to deliver their solutions for the environment that they will inherit."
His Highness was inspired to create the Blue Youth initiative to engage disconnected young people who feel powerless and hopeless as they are excluded from a process where adults make decisions that affect their future. The Blue Youth are posed to become agents of change that engage and inspire young Water Protectors around the world about those challenges, so they can understand, identify, participate and act to impact environmental solutions.
It is only fitting that the call to participate in the upcoming Giving Games: Youth and Schools Play It Forward was launched by the Pied Piper of today’s young people, The Green Sheikh. The Compassion Relay was kicked off on the opening day of the (Convention of Parties) COP 22 UN Climate Change Conference on November 7th in Marrakech, Morocco. His Highness, the first Champion of Compassion inaugurated COP22’s opening ceremony with the launch of a “Global Compassion Relay” integrating his Blue Youth from around the world in the passing of the Compassion Torch representing the commitment to peace, tolerance, hope and a better environmental future. Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr., Hinhan Wicasa and Deloria Tiospayes, Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, Chairpersons of Compassion Games International received the torch from Sheikh Al Nuaimi and will carry the Compassion Torch on a multi-continental journey.
”This is not my project, but it’s yours and the coming generations, the Green Sheikh shared with his Blue Youth Team in Marrakech. It is an honor to help you to help me make a difference.” It’s our hope that the Green Sheikh’s message is expounded exponentially to catalyze the cooperation and collaboration of people, groups, schools and organizations from all over the planet coming together to participate in the Compassion Games International “coopetition” called the global Giving Games.
To learn more about the Green Sheikh, click here.
Brioné LaThrop: As one of the 9 million residents who call the United Arab Emirates home, Brioné like so many others is inspired by the visionary leadership of the nation’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. His ability to construct a nation while carefully interweaving giving and compassion as cornerstone principles of the country remains one of his most enduring legacies and sources of inspiration. To learn more about Brioné - click here.
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This article appears in: 2016 Catalyst, Issue 20: Thanksgiving, Standing Rock and Indigenous Wisdom Library