“I have extreme climate anxiety, I start losing sleep,” says sustainability consultant Aza Elnimah on the urgency and pressing need to confront global environmental challenges.
Like many of us, Aza is staring the climate crisis in the face while some people in power still question the validity of climate change.
The language currently used around the climate softens the blow and the urgency with which we take action, where “climate ‘change’ sounds gradual,” she says. “It’s a climate crisis at this point, and being aware isn’t enough.”
As a Sudanese who grew up in Toronto, she has seen the two very different ends of the conversation around the climate: from circles where it is treated as a very real and looming threat to others where there is almost a sense of denial coupled with procrastination.
She returned to the region as a young adult to visit family and stayed in Doha when she found work with a Qatari firm. Utilizing her education in architecture and sustainable design, Aza works on the built environment, which at times entails carrying out environmental assessments that help mitigate impact.
“We optimize a building’s energy and carbon consumption; this means orienting the building a certain way or optimizing mechanical equipment, suppressing the dust, controlling the noise, etc.,” she says.
Her passions are diverse, and when Aza isn’t stressing about the climate, she puts that energy toward working on her new venture C.R.E.A.M Bakery, a concept where hip hop meets dessert, which she co-founded with her partner Bayan Dahdah.
“C.R.E.A.M. was about playlists and music, but then it became about the relationship between music, food, and the senses. We wanted a coffee shop concept where you could listen to hip hop all day and debate Top 5 with your friends while having your favorite dessert,” she says.
Growing up in diaspora, Aza reminisces about how it was always the intangible things that she associated with the feeling of home. “The food, the smells, the music you listened to.” Her overarching vision for the project is to have a place that takes people back to just that, their stomachs full of Notorious P.I.E. and Dear Mama cookies.
She has equal clarity when approaching the global climate crisis with a local lens.
Dominated by western action plans and ideologies, the conversation around the climate crisis has neglected to include those who may be most affected. It became apparent that frameworks designed by the US had to be adapted to different geographical locations and their specific environmental needs in order to be effective.
Marginalized communities face inequalities that require their immediate attention and are unable to participate. Being a young, black woman in a predominantly white and male space, Aza is wary of this dynamic, and her larger goal is to help make it more inclusive of minorities and climate refugees.
“This wasn’t an immediate issue for me until I had all the resources to support me to sit and think about it. We need to address the immediate issues people are dealing with, like racial inequality, and tie them back to climate change.”
While industrialized giants are now able to convert into green economies and forego their history of pollution, they are too comfortable pointing fingers at countries that are attempting to build or rebuild.
“I’m interested in looking at how we can help cities that are still building, like Khartoum, post war and post revolution, become sustainable at the baseline so that they don’t end up playing a game of catchup.”
In all aspects of sustainable development, it has become unaffordable for many. “It’s become a luxury item, a marketing tag. I want us to look at ways in which we can make sustainability accessible to those who are more impacted by the climate crisis.”
Approaching it in daily life, Aza believes that change comes with adapting the conversation to one that is open and guilt-free. “We need to make people feel comfortable saying ‘I don’t understand why icebergs melting is a bad thing, how is it going to affect me living in Dubai?’”
While things go in and out of trend, low consumption patterns are something she hopes comes about and sticks around. “I want the planet to hire a better PR agency and make it more fashionable to care about the climate,” she says humorously.
As communities become more aware of the change that they can make, and despite the daunting act of changing a global climate, it comes down to the small conscious choices we make every day.
“I believe in telling people what they can do in their realm of living to make this better,” explains Aza. “My mom doesn’t need to understand how to calculate carbon, she just needs to understand that she needs to stop buying plastic Tupperware.”
Follow Aza on Instagram: @aza.elnimah