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Don't Laugh: Can Saudi Arabia become the "Mecca" of Green?

Even the title sounds a bit out there. What, the Middle East, the world’s largest producer of oil, becoming a center for green technology, and renewable energy? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And yet, the sheer incongruity of it all may just be enough to make it work. In a world of increasing uncertainty, sometimes it is the unexpected that is to be expected.

Look at the world, and what do you see? A lot of good things, that’s for sure. Beauty surrounds us wherever we choose to look. But increasingly we are also facing a gathering perfect storm in the form of three types of threats: the Extremism, the Environment, and the Economy. We’ll call these the 3-E’s for short. Since these three threats are inter-related, and inextricably linked, like spaghetti and tomato sauce, it makes sense that a solution can be found which solves all three in one shot.

How are the 3-E’s related to one another? In all sorts of ways: Extremist ideologies prevent people from coming together to tackle environmental and economic problems. The degradation of the environment can spur extremist thinking and economic woes. A declining or unjust economy can become fertile ground for extremist thinking and can push people to further degrade the environment. And the list of inter-connections between the 3-E’s goes on and on.

Since the threats we face are closely connected, it makes sense that a solution can be found which addresses all three in one shot. What would such a solution look like? Well, at least part of the solution could be to revitalize the stagnant economies of the Middle East, and to neutralize some of the ideological extremism that is found there, by investing to create good paying jobs, jobs which are geared toward the protection of the environment. In short, invest in the Middle East to create jobs which protect the environment.

Conditions on the ground seem to be ripe for such a solution: Rising oil prices have made it possible for green technology and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind power, and geothermal, to become competitive and even profitable. There is also, as we speak, a gathering consensus with respect to the threats we face, as a species, from Global Warming. It is becoming increasingly possible, for example, that by the year 2050, if we do nothing, the sea level may rise some 20 feet, thus flooding 60% of humanity. Or at least, the risk of such an outcome may be great enough to warrant decisive action now, even if we’re not completely sure. At the same time, the threat from ideological extremism has been perceived, experienced, and acknowledged, worldwide, and the world seems poised to adopt solutions which will curb such threats.

So how do we put together all of the pieces of a possible solution? Let’s start by focusing on what resources and motivations we have available to us as we speak. Oil producing countries, like Saudi Arabia, have untold billions to invest, but as yet have not invested their funds to create thriving economies, and are themselves beset by the threat posed by ideological extremists. Israel is on the cusp of cutting edge green technology, and is enjoying a thriving economy, but has not as yet come to enjoy the security that can only come from peace. America and other Western nations have plenty of public and private investment dollars, as well as business and technological expertise, but they feel insecure in a world threatened by extremist ideology, environmental harm, and economic uncertainty. The West may also be overwhelmed by the amount of investment that is will take to switch over to green, especially as it faces current economic realities on the ground.

So how do we make it all work? How do we move the immoveable? We start by convincing the world at large that change is in the air. And we do it not just by talking, but by creating facts on the ground which speak louder than words. We build a project, a special project that resonates with hope, a project for all to see, and for all to follow.

Start with a single solitary project in the West Bank, a very unique place in the Middle East, a place that resonates with symbolism. Use Israeli technology, Arab and Israeli management, Palestinian workers, and Saudi financing, to build a factory that produces a green energy product which is technologically significant in some innovative way. Promote the project around the world to attract more such funding, for more such projects, for more such jobs, for more such environmental protection, for more such neutralizing of extremism, using funds from the West, and from the Arab world as well. Pretty soon, if everything goes as it should—stranger things have happened—your project won’t just be a project anymore, but rather a movement for change. Your project will say to the world that a Vision of Hope could be made real if people simply choose to make it so, one project at a time.

How would you convince America and the West? You would say that the writing is on the wall with regard to Global Warming. You either change, or you’re all going down. And the economy is not in such great shape either. You need to create some good paying jobs, both here and abroad. But even if you go green, and even if you fix the economy, those things by themselves won’t be enough, not if you continue to have ideological extremists on your back. So the answer for America is to go for the complete package: Create good paying jobs here and the Middle East, jobs which will protect the environment, jobs which will help to neutralize ideological hate, and jobs which help to cure your economic woes.

How would you convince Israel? Israel is a coastline country, and if the sea level rises 20 feet, by 2050 no less, what will become of your country? It’s time to make something happen with regard to Global Warming and with regard to peace. Skirting around the issues with empty talk will not do. Use your technological prowess and your economic drive to help revitalize the stagnant economies of the Middle East. Help to design and build projects in the West Bank, and throughout the Middle East, which protect the environment, and which help quell the ideological fervor of extremist thinking. Your ultimate security rests in brokering a peace, a peace based on fulfilling mutual needs and creating mutual economic interdependence.

How would you convince Saudi Arabia and other nations of the Middle East? The current model that has been put in place will not hold. We all know that. Sooner or later, the oil will run out. And even before then, the West will be forced to find new sources of energy given the pressure of climate change. Global Warming weighs heavily on us all. Why not dare to dream the impossible, and to make the impossible come true? Why not create a new model, a model based on a Vision of Hope. Have the foresight and the courage to diversify your investments by becoming a big player in going green. Get in on the ground floor of the world wide demand for renewable energy. Convert oil profits into green profits, by creating jobs which protect the environment. Use good paying jobs to revitalize your economy, and to neutralize the hold of extremist thinking. Inspire a sense of hope in your people, and restore a sense of pride in the Arab world.

Is any of this possible? You’re asking me? In all honesty, no one can know for sure. But my sense is that there is no alternative. We either confront the threats we face head on, or we’re going down. It’s that simple, and everything we know and love hangs in the balance. Confronting all these three threats—the Extremists, the Environment, and the Economy—in one shot, makes a lot of sense, because: each threat is related to the other two, a solution for one can be part of a solution for all three, and a solution for one will not work unless it is tied to a solution for all three.

We find ourselves in a fix of immense proportions, a fix we’ve created for ourselves. We’re in a real pickle, so to speak. If we are to survive, and that is quickly becoming an open question, we will have to aspire to the wisdom of God, as we put together all of the pieces of a possible solution, not unlike how He has put together all of the pieces of His creation. Only then could it truly be said of us that we were created in “the image of God,” which is perhaps what He is waiting to see in us.

If you are at all interested, or if you have a rich Saudi uncle, please visit us at www.sellingavisionofhope.org

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Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on August 12, 2008 at 3:18am
Thanks for your response, Nissim.
I will keep my eyes open (not that I know anyone with real "pull"!!)
Almost anything to get decent jobs in the WB.
Comment by Nissim Dahan on August 12, 2008 at 3:07am
Good points, Yigal, and thanks for your comments.

It is true that there is a risk here, but it may be a risk worth taking.

I don't think that the Saudi leadership is as monolithic as it first seems. There is definitely more there than meets the eye.

I think it was 1979, or thereabouts, when the extremists took over the mosques in Mecca and Medina. Since that time, an understanding, of sorts, has materialized between the House of Saud and the religious fundamentalists. The royal family would sustain the extremists financially, with the understanding that the royal family would be left alone to govern.

My guess is that this arrangement, in the long run, will not hold. I think the royal family has made a deal with the devil, and the devil is now after them. The money that was given to the extremists has been used to build mosques and madrasas which teach hate, and guess what, the hate is now being pointed to the House of Saud. Bin Laden's greatest enemy is the royal family.

There are hints, here and there, from people like Prince Bandar, and even from King Abdullah himself, that they may be open to change. Don't forget that the Saudis have recently advocated on behalf of a comprehensive peace deal with Israel, and in addition, the King just sponsored the first Saudi sponsored interfaith conference that included Jews. But I agree with you, Yigal, that this may well be a long shot.

If the ruling family becomes convinced that their position is being threatened by the extremists, then they may be open to invest in a Vision of Hope, as opposed to an Ideology of Hate. And granted, that's a big "if."

If I can get the project off the ground, and if they are willing to finance at least a part of it, then this will be an indication that they may be interested in converting oil profits into green profits, in creating good paying jobs, in building an economy, in improving the image of the Arab world, in protecting the environment, and in taking the first step to neutralizing the extremist thinking in their country.

Why do I believe that this is possible? Maybe because I'm a dreamer. But also because I think it makes sense, and I believe that sooner or later people have no choice but to make sense of their lives. I am fond of saying that this may well be the time, before time runs out, to dream the impossible, and to make the impossible come true.

Thanks again for your comments. I hope to hear from you often. And please keep your eyes open for a green technology businessman who wants to make a difference. By the way, I won't say no to Dubai money, or Bahrain money, etc. I'm very easy going that way. It's just that Saudi money would be very symbolic on so many levels.
Comment by Yigal D. Kahana on August 12, 2008 at 1:11am
OK Nissim,
I'll bite.

I like the idea of collaborative projects. The question I have is how do you control the process enough to prevent the Saudi-style Jew-hate and discrimination from contaminating your process and product?
This has even become a large and heavily publicized problem with Saudi-funded schools in the US, recently.

You wrote"
"Oil producing countries, like Saudi Arabia, have untold billions to invest, but as yet have not invested their funds to create thriving economies, and are themselves beset by the threat posed by ideological extremists."

Last I checked, the country is being ruled by those extremists, under policies and educational systems created by those extremists.
There is a direct connection between that and the fact that they have not decided to invest in their economy.

Not that I'm telling you not to try this, because getting decent jobs in the WB is very important,
but how do you plan on overcoming that obstacle?

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