April 2017


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Post 245.

Are you personally responsible for climate change? The brutish and short answer is ‘yes’.

The question that follows, and is asked by David Hughes in his book, ‘Energy Without Conscience’, is: ‘Why don’t you care enough to reduce your contribution to CO2 emissions through your role as a waged or profiteering cog in the oil and gas industry or through your ceaseless and carefree consumption of its products?’ After all, devastation is about to wreck the planet and future generations of all species, and barely anyone from West Moorings to Moruga seems bothered.

The latter question is more of a mouthful and Hughes tries to answer it in the book. He suggests that, from the expendable bodies of plantation labour to the later turn to fossil fuels, use of energy developed without a conscience or accountability in Trinidad. This created a society comfortable with its own complicity and lack of conscience today.

Hughes points to other sources of culpability. He highlights the kinds of maps and graphs petro-geologists use to think about oil resources and reserves, to deny possibility of peak oil (for unknown oil resources are simply not yet known or technologically accessible), and to argue that carbon sequestration is a solution rather than ultimately reducing both production and consumption.

In his view, petro-geology, governance and economics have melded into an overlapping impetus for business as usual, even while venturing into renewable resources like sun, wind and wave energy, in order to keep the global energy industry and its influence going.

For him, carbon sequestration is a mystification of the problem because too much carbon, which at this point is any at all, will continue to spew to the skies, its effects spilling everywhere, while more is generated from fossil fuels being taken from the earth in a genocidal and circular flow of effect back to our lives.

Interestingly, as small tropical islanders (including Tobago) subject to rising sea levels, intensified hurricanes, hotter temperatures and drought, we (in Trinidad) seem either clueless or in denial about the production of our own twin-island republic’s demise.  Depicting Trinidadians as irresponsible and backward, Hughes main concern is to point a judging finger.

He does so even at environmental activists whom he stereotypes as narrowly concerned with an obsolete, place-based pollution politics, rather than with planetary air conservation. Weirdly, for an anthropologist, he missed an opportunity to truly document concerns about climate change and fossil fuel dependence across the country. He didn’t have a clue, for example, that Hazel Brown sought to apply for a license to run the first solar-powered radio station decades ago.

We lament our climate change victimhood as a Small Island Developing State, but are actually a proud perpetrator, he accuses. Rightly so. The fact that, by global standards, Trinidad produces a miniscule impact on climate change is irrelevant at this time for every molecule now counts. What matters is that per capita, each individual in this nation produces among the highest amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere. We run cars and air conditions like gas is cheap. We use and dispose of plastics and agricultural fertilizers like excessive petrochemical use is our divine right.

It’s like God isn’t just a Trini. He’s a Trini petro-capitalist seer-man, all knowing and above morality. We all model ourselves in this image, to differing degrees depending on our levels of wealth and poverty, our will to get ‘off the grid’, recycle and lower our carbon footprint, or our inability to even think ourselves out of this pre-apocalyptic matrix. Plus, if we didn’t get the fossil fuels out of the ground, someone else will.

Surrounded by ecologically unaccountable goliaths such as BP and BG, and the US as an increasing energy exporter (and suppressor of social movements which pursue alternatives), it’s a source of pride when we roll with the big boys like we are little gods too.

Public planning for sustainability (like bicycle paths or heat-reducing building construction) be damned. Thus, instead of treating them as sacred and to be used sparingly, we are enchanted with petrochemicals in the most immoral of ways: wastefully.

It’s time to act with carbon conscience. It’s not too late to care enough to take responsibility.

*Energy without Conscience: Oil, Climate Change, and Complicity isn’t the kind of anthropology of oil in Trinidad that I would write – the tone is condescending and the ethnography is thin – but it’s the only anthropological study of oil in Trinidad that I know, its historical tracing of an energy economy is creative and insightful, and its beautiful turns of phrase as well as its unapologetic mirror and challenge to Trinidadians make it definitely worth a read.

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Post 244.

Back to school.

Ziya’s teachers have started suggesting that I invest more in her focus on school work and a routine of revision. She’ll need this in order to not experience Junior 1, next year, as an overwhelming leap in demands, pressure and material to be covered.

The girl is dreamy, drifting away from whatever she is assigned to doodle on her notebook pages, wanting to fall asleep on afternoons, more interested in chatting, drawing and play, and sometimes outright inattentive. So, I’m appreciative of her teachers’ insights and advice.

I’m also committed to developing her motivation and concentration, and guiding her to write more quickly and neatly, and take more initiative to complete homework. I’d like her to feel confident and capable of tackling learning and responsibility challenges, and to begin to develop the habits and skills to do so.

Another part of me is protective of her dreaminess and distraction. I think dreaminess and imagination are wonders and rights of childhood. I think her brain transitions to doodling when she gets bored, and that school shouldn’t consist of years of mostly boredom, which it was for the majority of us. Children get bored because of how they are taught so the challenge to adapt is for us, not them.

Does homework systematically nurture children’s creativity, courage, caring or love for learning, especially when it often consists of tired and frustrated parents buffing up tired and frustrated children? I’m unconvinced that ‘alternative’ assignments that require parents to search the internet or spend nights helping to put together projects really present displays of independent effort. I’d rather Zi spend her evenings drumming or dancing than doing more writing at this stage. I think we should go to the river or waterfalls every weekend rather than sacrifice them for revision. And, I think these sentiments are appropriate for the mother of a child just six years old.

I have many reasons for these priorities. First, I’d like Zi to learn to love learning more than I’m concerned with how much content she learns. I spent twenty-eight years in school and did my best learning when I loved my subjects, and that didn’t start to happen until university.

Second, I think that children grow into school practices at different rates and our homogenizing system misses this fact of childhood development. Maybe at six she doesn’t care about school for more than half of the allotted time for a subject, maybe some teaching styles are sheer tedium, maybe she won’t begin to reach her peak or potential for another couple of years. None of that speaks to her capacity for self-determination in adult life, but it could compromise that defining moment of childhood, SEA, which unfortunately establishes the overarching rationale for parents’ schooling decisions.

Third, I teach university students. Many come afraid of experimenting or getting things wrong, asking for example essays rather than trying to find their own voice, wanting instructions for every step of assignments rather than figuring it out, terrified or passive about communicating confusions or critiques with lecturers, pessimistic rather than utopian, disengaged from social transformation rather than demanding it, expecting good grades for mediocre work, and unclear about their responsibility to improve not only their lives, but the world. Marley called it ‘head-decay-shun’. Our courses have to pull out passion, political will, purpose, creativity, empowerment and a sense of care and humanity. It’s in the students already, just hardly still prioritized. When rewarded, I’ve seen so many of them spark.

I’m also most likely to hire young women and men who bring unusual ideas and angles, who aim beyond the status quo, can devise solutions and strategies, and are ethical, fearless and self-motivated. Passed tests matter, but not really. I’d rather a hunger for new experiences, lessons and opportunities to contribute.

As a mother, I see Ziya starting a schooling path that many have gone through, and survived just fine, some better than others. As an educator and employer, I also see the end results and its myriad costs.

Come Monday, when school starts back, I’ll still be wondering how to negotiate my own learning philosophy with that of the system of which we are also a part.

Post 243.

Once upon a time, a goddess walked along a bare road. She gazed ahead, wondering where the road led. Seeing its divergent paths, she reflected on which she would take and what would result from those unplanned directions. With each step, she watched the sun also walk overhead, its light streaming in changing yellow shades.

At the first fork in the road, the goddess paused and looked in every direction. Everywhere was bare. She decided to follow the sun. She chose one of the paths and, feeling confident, walked on. As soon as she stepped on this side, bright yellow flowers sprang up at the fork in the road and continued to blossom alongside every step she made. The goddess felt buoyant that her decision produced such light and reassuring beauty. She picked one of the yellow flowers and, twirling it in her fingers, kept walking.

She reached another fork in the road and, relying on her first decision, chose the same direction. At once, red flowers rose high on each side of her feet as she continued to walk. ‘How strange,’ she thought, ‘What does this mean?’ She missed the yellow flowers that had been her companions, but was determined to accept this other deeply hued landscape arising from her decision. She pulled a red flower from the others, adding it to the yellow one she held tightly.

And, so it continued. At the next choice of path, she began to wonder if her decisions were the right ones. Might the other road have led to differently coloured flowers? Contemplating what might have been, she began to grow sad, wondering at what was lost, for each neglected direction remained desolate and bare. Blue flowers began to carpet each side of the road as she slowly moved ahead. They seemed to reflect the depth of the evening sky. She stopped to pick one blue flower, for it reminded her of a story of a magical woman who lost her immeasurable and flaming power when her beating red heart was stolen, leaving her empty, shivering and blue.

At the next choice, the goddess stopped walking and stood on the spot indecisively. Now unsure of the way, she took the turn in the road that led to a new direction, immediately regretting she had not taken the other, not because she imagined it was more right, but because each of her decisions carried such stark effects. Deeply purple flowers began to spring. She drew a purple flower from the ground and, as light faded, looked with her own magical heart at the colours collected in her hand.

She turned around and gazed at the paths she had chosen and was amazed to see that the roads she had walked had entirely disappeared. All that was left was a vast cover of flowers matched, like a puzzle, by swathes of dry and lifeless land. She made a step in the direction she thought she came from and the flowers at her feet immediately turned black. She shuddered and drew her foot back before trying to retrace each step turned the rest to ash.

She breathed. She could see her choices and their consequences, but knew there was no way back to choose alternate paths. Bringing the flowers close to her lips, she blew on their petals. They scattered in every direction. Happiness, confidence, indecision, sadness and regret swept with them across the land, blossoming along even the desolate and neglected paths in a chaos of colour and emotion. Night fell, and in the blackness, unable to see the turn ahead or the path back, the goddess vanished into starry dust.

Now that morning has broken, be aware that every beautiful flower you see and every one that turns black and then crumbles, was born from her steps along this road, and their limits and possibilities.

In our own time, these many coloured earthly flowers are all that are left of this goddess’ life-force, footprints and feelings. Looking at them, any of us may better understand that we make the best decisions we can, only discover what blooms after we choose, and must continue to resolutely walk until we, too, disappear into stardust.

 

 

Post 242.

When you are in a gathering with women leaders from Akawaio, Garifuna, Kalinago, Lokono Arawak, Machushi, Maho, Mopan Maya, Q’eqchi Maya, Wapichan and Warrau First Peoples, it’s best to simply listen.

These women, some of them among the few women chiefs in the region’s Indigenous People’s communities, represent those who have belonged to the land and who the land has belonged to for many thousands of years. Most striking in their stories is their struggle against lack of recognition of such belonging.

Listen to women like Faye Fredericks, who is Wapichan and from what is now known as Guyana, and who has been passionately fighting mining and logging’s shocking destruction of the very forest her ancestors and community have drawn their sustenance and cosmologies from as long as they remember.

Next time you think approvingly of Guyana’s economic model, ask yourself how we can so ignore her evidence and her community’s right to fish from rivers which haven’t been poisoned. Ask yourself if such ‘necropolitics’, or wielding of political and social power to determine life and death, is truly ‘development’.

Listen to women, like Christina Coc, who is a spokesperson for the Mayan Leaders’ Alliance from what is now known as Belize, who has been battling the Belizean state for more than a decade to get back rights to land that was once theirs. The Alliance achieved an historic victory in 2015, affirming the right of 39 Q’eqchi and Mopan Maya indigenous communities of southern Belize to the lands that they have historically used and occupied. The MLA website states, “This historic legal affirmation – which states that traditional land rights constitute property, equal in legitimacy to any other form of property under Belizean law – is the first indigenous peoples land rights victory in the Caribbean region”.

As I listened, I reflected on how much the Westminster model, and the notions of leadership, property and rights it has protected, has failed our region. I kept wondering why not support these struggles and these women who are on the absolute frontline of defending rivers, forests, alternative forms of farming and exchange, and shared approaches to land.

Might Ziya’s life be better if she could still swim in Santa Cruz’s many rivers as children could at the turn of independence? Might her life be better under Indigenous systems of governance which value nature, and not just as a ‘resource’ but a source of life, and provide greater respect for communal land? Might the trails of the Northern Range be better protected if in the hands of First Peoples, as Tracy Assing dreams, rather than subject to the Ministry of Forestry?

These Indigenous women are engaged in absolutely contemporary political movements, against the states to which we declare loyalty, in battles in which we are entangled while pretending innocence about what outcome would be truly and historically just. They also struggle against corporate unsustainable practices and even banks that profit from their place in the region while providing no room for developmental loans unless communities allow themselves to be divided by the collateral of private property.

We must deepen our practices of recognition and inclusion, and welcome alternatives to our colonial inheritance. Think of Anacaona, a Taino chief or Cacica, who ruled the island of Kiskeya, now known as the Dominican Republic and Haiti. In 1503, during a meeting of eighty caciques, including Anacaona, the Spanish Governor ordered the meeting house to be set on fire to burn them alive, similar to what centuries later occurred to Rigoberta Menchu’s father and Indigenous Mayans in Guatemala in 1980. Cacica Anacaona was arrested and accused of conspiracy for resisting occupation, and sexual concubinage as an escape, and was executed. She was only twenty-nine years old.

In March 2016, Honduran environmentalist Berta Caceres, a leader with the Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras, was assassinated for her defiance to mining and logging concessions, and proposed dams. Miriam Miranda Chamorro has taken over her work, moving in and out of hiding for her own safety.

These battles were being waged five hundred years ago as they are being waged today. It’s time we listen and stand with these women on the right side of history.

Stories and interviews with Indigenous Caribbean women, on their struggles and leadership, are on the IGDS Youtube page. Click, watch, and share them with our region’s citizens, students and children.