A marine scientist and creative writer
By Tiani Dun
Aliya Siddiqi is a bubbly, artistic soul who shares her inspiration with all who are blessed to be in her presence.
Often one can spot Aliya working in her natural habitat –at JCU, in The Science Place. But when she isn’t doing research for her master’s degree Aliya often writes free verses to help her to express her desire to change the narrative that Western society has written for our planet. She is often inspired to write about nature and her experiences within it. Here, she can create a space where she can delve into the deep recesses of her mind.
Aliya has been writing poetry since she was 12 and finds it a perfect way to put the thoughts in her head onto another medium. She uses her writing as her creative outlet -particularly when things aren’t going well, to release her thoughts and reflect upon her present mood.
“I like to just sit and write and see what comes out. Then I can get a better understanding of how I’m feeling in that moment,” she says.
While we often use the logical and analytical part of our minds when working or studying, Aliya encourages everybody to tap into their creative mediums in their spare time. This helps open space for the expression and acceptance of oneself and may encourage us to look beyond our immediate surroundings for deeper connections. For Aliya, it enhances her connection and appreciation of the natural world and her place in it. This connection is deeply important to Aliya, and she explains how it is often lost in translation with many people in Western society.
Recently, Aliya has been focusing her writing about our disconnect with nature in the Western world, one that is reflected in the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are manipulating nature and it is responding,” Aliya says. “COVID is a symptom of human activities: a net result of the mindless destruction we are leaving on our planet.”
We are a part of the system – things that happen to it are reflected back in us.
“We need to redevelop our relationship with nature,” Aliya continued. “Rather than to look at our resources and think, ‘What can I gain from this?’ We need to recognise that we are a part of it –not separate from it, above it, or in complete control of it –and that’s what is truly important.”
COVID-19 gave Aliya the opportunity to write more, and to reflect on what is happening to the planet on a global scale. “I’ve been writing more about our current society. Growing up in a landlocked city in the USA, I’ve seen how many of us are shut off from nature, so the monopolization and commodification of nature is not something most people even recognize. We’re stuck in a neoliberal narrative.”
As marine biologists, we are taught to quantify the values of ecosystem services and our natural resources. This is a part of what we study –how much money we can make from nature. How much is a coral reef worth to us as a fishery or through tourism? And how can we profit from this ‘free’ resource? But it is here, in our focus on perpetual advancements in capital, that we are wholeheartedly missing the point.
“Many people get lost in the symptoms of the problem,” Aliya says, “but we are missing the root of the problem. We need to decrease carbon emissions –it’s true. But the actual problem lies in the norms and values of western society, in our drive for the constant accumulation of wealth. Every day we use more, waste more, and exploit more of our planet.”
Most of us lack a deep relationship with nature that is seen in the cultures of indigenous and First Nation’s people.
We have a vast impact on the earth that often, we don’t even acknowledge. In the prevailing issues that we see today, it becomes all the more necessary to deconstruct how this has happened. Most of the “goods” and “natural resources” that are being exploited only benefit a minority of people on the planet, and most of the individuals that make significant gains from exploitation of the Earth and human labor are wealthy individuals who have no real need to use those resources, except to accumulate more wealth.
In the video she made below, Aliya infers that we do not require much to make us truly happy. We don’t need an excess of material items – just a few, small things that have good quality and use. Ultimately, Aliya contends that it is our experiences with nature and other people that are what makes life worth living.
And Aliya is far from finished –she is only just beginning to leave her positive impact on the Earth. In the future, Aliya hopes to aid those in developing countries, and ultimately to leave this world in a better place than which she found it.
For those of you interested in helping Aliya out in spreading awareness and understanding, here are her top 3 tips in making a change:
1) Disconnect from your phone/technology
Social media, in particular, is a brainwashing tool designed to maintain your attention and steal your time. These apps are designed to keep you addicted, so that advertisers can gain maximum profits from your views on their ads.
Your social media feed is tailored to suit your “user profile,” which has kept track of every click you’ve ever made, every photo you’ve ever “liked” and every location you’ve ever checked in. This narrows your view of the world and can create a bubble of misinformation tailored specifically to you. Just think –all of the time you spend staring at your screen is time you are selling yourself to these companies –missing the magic that could be found in creative outlets, time with friends, or experiences out in nature…to benefit corporations and marketers.
Aliya encourages everybody to get out and spend some time in nature each day. “When people are forced to sit in silence they get uncomfortable –but once we get past the initial discomfort we can learn so much about ourselves.”
2) Put pressure on political systems
Aliya knows that many scientists would prefer to stay neutral in political debate. Yet in order for positive changes to occur, there is a pressing need to express an opinion. academics are more protected from political and corporate influence, and therefore have an obligation to go beyond the fundamentals and encourage critical thinking about how people view and use the world around them, and how it will influence future generations. We should all use any privilege we may have to stand up for what is right and advocate for changes to be made in our local communities.
3) Expand your knowledge
There is an endless supply of knowledge out there –most of it for free. Yet educating oneself is not often promoted in our misguided system, as knowledge does not necessarily make you rich. It does, however, empower individuals to the world a better place, and lead to much fuller, richer lives. Therefore, Aliya encourages everybody to read widely –and not just about the things you are interested in. Read about the things you like, sure, but also read about the things you don’t like. Try to understand things from as many different perspectives as possible, to think outside the matrix of society. Travel, and have constructive conversations with others, listen to what they have to teach you and share what you learned along your own journey. It’s okay to have disagreements, but it is important to gain empathy for other perspectives.
Question everything. Stay awake to the organized chaos.