Post 340.

There is an evening occurrence along the road which rushes through the Chagaramas peninsula. It is fragile and fleeting, yet marvelous and priceless to observe. I would put money that none who have acquired low-cost leases and are busily privatizing the coast have a clue of its existence.

If I was the gambling sort, I’d bet even more money that no minister responsible for that precious area has ever stopped at the side of the road as dusk fell and witnessed the natural habitat of species come to life, at the same time seeing how little we notice or care about its easy peril.

What is the species? Bats. What is so marvelous? There’s are special parts of the hillside and unique trees that thousands of bats fly out from when daylight begins to darken. You can stand just across the road from them, directly in their path, and feel the wind rush from their wings again and again as thousands emerge into the night, surging skyward just feet from you.

You can hear them as they sweep past your body, barely missing you as they come, maneuvering trucks thundering by. It’s genuinely euphoric to stand there, awed by life as you barely considered it, like discovering real gold in the midst of everyone obsessing about carnivalesque tin foil.

Bats. So what, right? Most people are afraid of them and feel that such fear justifies getting rid of them for something better, preferably in concrete, without too much bush, but plenty bright lights and heart-arresting amplification, even in what should be a protected, dark and quiet corner of our national ecosystem.

For me, the prized parts of our nation, the aspects I feel most patriotic toward, have nothing to do with wearing red or waving a flag or terrifying domestic and foreign animals with fireworks. For me, it often comes down to searching out those unimaginable experiences that rely on a delicate and easily-lost combination of our own history and nature.

Independence isn’t about becoming an owner of the place, it’s about a sense of responsibility for all its cultural and biological diversity. It’s about humility toward all its inhabitants, for they have just as much claim to God as to legal protection.

There’s a way that the privatization of this coast, which dismisses the spirit of the 1974 Chagaramas Development Plan, feels shallow and greedy. There’s a way that focusing your eye on a nice piece of property to lease makes me wonder if you’ve ever wandered through this ecosystem, and understand anything of its interconnections. It makes me wonder if you’ve ever seen a pink-toed tarantula sitting quietly like rare diamond or if you’ve thought about the wild caiman that used to live at the mouth of the river before it was bridged up and gentrified.

That same caiman may have surprised bathers at William’s Bay, venturing there as its ancestors might have for generations, before finding itself now imprisoned in the zoo, no longer free. Crouching in the bush, I watched it with Ziya when she was four, warning her she would be one of the few children in the country to ever witness this species, this very caiman, at that bank of the river, at home in its habitat. Now, no more.

This is what I mean by precious and fleeting. Future construction will lead to those trees, which are home and pathway to so many thousands of bats, being cut down, and that very magical spot disappearing before we even bother to recognise its value. We cannot bring back animals, birds and insects when we destroy their traditions, families and spaces, and we often haven’t thought about their relationships to other species, including ourselves.

As I stood at one spot, grateful to see those places where our immense biodiversity still takes one’s breath away, I knew that anyone who witnessed this would appreciate the whole social-economy around our environment – which we are killing rather than conserving. Here I was, in Chagaramas, experiencing its greatest public wealth, for free. How clear, under brightening stars, that investment which prioritizes what is man-made is sheer folly and conceit.

This wonderous few feet of valley, with hills on both sides, is a tunnel from the past to the future. What CDA thinks of as development will soon leave it destroyed and gone, despite the centuries it took to form.  Before that happens, Zi will again go with me to learn what it means to treasure and, perhaps, mourn.

 

Post 233.

Our development dreams are a planetary nightmare. We are living that nightmare now, even if we have not yet connected higher food prices, increasing drought, floods, hurricanes, fish depletion, waste poisoning or air pollution to vast, wider global changes.

This year, gorillas, bees, amphibians, plants and others have been added to the endangered list, which already consists of 80,000 species, almost 24,000 of which are threatened with extinction. This is reversible, requiring us to take responsibility for solutions.

Animal populations plummeted by 58% between 1970 and 2012, with losses expected to reach 67% by 2020, according to the Living Planet Index, which was released last month, and highlights our destruction of the natural world on which all life depends.

There are different causes for this, predominantly loss of habitat, use of pesticides and other pollutants, and unsustainable fishing, hunting and corporate practices. There are higher and lower numbers for specific species, but the trend remains disturbing. This holocaust of animals is a glimpse of our own future.

All such injustice against the earth’s ecology and inhabitants is authorized by those with institutional power, and the force of state, law, and industry. That’s the case here, in terms of depletion of fish as a result of the oil and gas industries’ poisoning of rivers and marine environments, with everyone from BP to Petrotrin guilty. It’s the case with Styrofoam and plastics pollution.

Yet, the message from Green Screen’s brilliant, now six-year environmental film festival, is that small communities of committed people can secure change, by bearing witness, by inspiring others, by demanding different decisions.

Wednesday night’s films highlighted suicides, by the hundreds of thousands, of Indian farmers caught up in debt cycles because of agricultural practices instituted by the pesticide and fertilizer industries, and the Indian government. Corporate control of agriculture decimated sustainable food production and their livelihoods.

A short, intimate look at the life of a spear fisherman in La Brea, seemed all too similar and close. He has no idea whether it’s still safe to eat the fish he catches and neither do many consumers, affecting his ability to support his family.

The Living Planet Index indeed shows that rivers and lakes are the hardest hit habitats, with populations down by 81% since 1970. Excessive water extraction, pollution, dams and habitat pressures from global warming are all causes. In the film, Jason James looks at the camera and concludes, “I am too young to die”.

The final, deeply moving film on the history of Greenpeace reminded us of what happens if only we care. I took a busload to UWI students to see the films because, among other things, I teach students to understand violence, and our relationship to our planet’s ecology constitutes one of its many forms.

I took another busload of students to Chagaramas to witness the nexus between state corruption, unethical and illegal privatization of ‘the commons’ or land meant for free, public enjoyment, and the negative impacts on wildlife. The caiman Ziya saw on her first forest walk, by the turn to Macaripe, was not there, and who knows if it will be again.

Amidst non-organic, elite-owned agriculture, loss of sea grass and starfish because of coastal construction, and bright lights in a dark-zone, I wanted them to learn about the power they have if only they decide.

Green Screen also held a panel discussion with Nadra Nathai-Gyan, Molly Gaskin, Peter O’Connor, Akilah Jaramogi and Bobbi Hunter of Greenpeace. On the bus back, I listed other environmental and wildlife protection pioneers, who students could contact and learn from, without an essay or test in sight, if they only tried.

Before we left, Molly Gaskin listed just a few of the successes our small movement had accomplished, such as getting Trinidad and Tobago to sign the Convention on the Prevention of International Trade in Endangered Species, preservation of the scarlet ibis, which was being hunted while nesting, designation of Nariva as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention, and a halt to the passage of ships carrying nuclear waste through the Caribbean.

Power is ours. Those films make clear. We must wake up and pursue a different dream. The first step is to care.

Post 203.

We spent Sunday morning carefully observing wildlife in Chaguaramas, all the while grieving their demise under Dr. Bhoe Tewarie’s leadership as Minister. Getting home wet from a spring, I felt it was a miracle that Ziya could walk amidst such great biodiversity, and Trinidad’s human and natural history.

Walk with me.

Just to the left of the turn to go into Macaripe Mail Road, next to the sea and along the Cuesa river wetlands, live a family of small crocodilians called Caimans. If you go quietly, you can see them resting. Development is planning for both now and for future generations, so including their habitat in planning isn’t an idealist, environmentalist wish. It is sustainable development and the right thing to do, especially in Chagaramas, for Ziya’s children will never have the experience she did if we submit to Dr. Tewarie’s piped dreams.

Filled-in and concretized land, and a freshwater waterpark are to be established on the same spot through private leases. This will destroy the precious little habitat that those caiman have a right to, and compromise the rights of public open space enjoyed by Baptists, Hindus, and those of all classes who freely access this state land for recreation. It will also exploit an aquifer for the most unsustainable uses imaginable at a time of global water crisis.

As I left the caiman, I looked up at the sign of what was planned, after closed-door conversations Dr. Tewarie had with private investors, and wondered if any of them ever saw those caiman or cared about habitat, future generations, precious fresh water, or Town and Country Planning approvals.

Keep walking.

The view of the sea will be cut off from the proposed new Guave Road, past the military museum, and will instead be accessible through businesses profiting from a mall and marina restaurants. These plans were made before the new Chagaramas Development Authority 2015 master plan was formulated and were forcibly misfit in, under the title of CDA ‘fixed projects’. Yet, the Town and Country Planning (Chaguaramas) Development Order created the CDA to follow the 1974 Statutory land use plan, which should only be replaced by Parliamentary and public agreement, and which clearly classes the coastline here as a public open space. Dr. Tewarie and the CDA know this, but fences are going up anyway. Have all the planning approvals have been obtained? Why not? Why do you think that the Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development is pursuing such an unsustainable dream?

Chagaramas’ forests are intended to be a “National Park”. Will the CDA again allow open-air fetes, such as by Ceasar’s Army, in, of all places, the Tucker valley “bamboo cathedral” in the middle of the wider National Park? If so, what will happen to the howler monkeys Ziya watched, not caged in the zoo, but free? Will businesses continue to operate as if the garbage growing around them, filling the streams, is in the Park’s best interest? Will extending the golf course from nine holes to eighteen plus high-density residential housing provide the buffers this national park needs? And imagine the military establishing a panorama of bright industrial level lights around its fenced off football field at the Tucker Valley youth camp, in the last “dark zones” in the western Northern Range. Such human hubris is disallowed because of the harm it causes to species in this ecology, but it continues, unregulated and irresponsibly.

Zi ecountered a furry, placid, pink-toed tarantula, Blue Emperor, Postman, Bamboo Page and other butterflies, two Green-banded Urania moths, a plica plica lizard, a tiny black and white striped frog, bats, a yellow and green ladybird, a hawk and cornbirds. Yesterday she told me, trees are a kind of school.

Is the next generation voiceless in the face of Minister Tewarie’s elite model, out of time with the publicly accessible heritage and biodiversity of Chagaramas, and sustainable planning across the planet? The Minister could have extended rather than destroyed biodiversity along the coast, and been sensitive not to big money, but the long-term interest of people of Trinidad and Tobago.

As Zi also now knows, it’s under Dr. Tewarie’s leadership that those caiman will be no more once tractors start to roll.