Post 323.

Could Carnival produce less garbage?

Somewhere, in the midst of all the music and coming together, is it possible for the right people to commit in the right way to make it happen?

No one cares once feteing starts until crossing the stage culminates, but a little leadership in the lead up could change our whole country. Carnival, after all, could be so collective, so representative of who we are, if only we see who our best could be.

I’ve walked around with Ziya or accompanied her through Kiddies’ Carnival thinking that, no matter how I’d like to teach her what responsibility means, the landscape socializes her to not care, to not even notice, to assume that discarding any and everything is without consequence, and to think that this is a privilege she should take for granted.

She’s simultaneously learning to selectively see who her people are and what her culture condones – an all too common problem whether in relation to garbage, violence or corruption.

I’d blame government for their lack of leadership and for sitting in the audience to hear calypso like its 1968, reproducing a tradition of nothing changing while the garbage piles up around them, but I’m convinced not seat in Cabinet, or in Opposition, actually cares about such blame. Imagine, not one national initiative or effort has successfully transformed our Carnival footprint in all these years.

Where does everyone think all that excessive plastic and Styrofoam goes on a small island that dumps it in our neighbour’s backyard, in rivers or in the ocean? This isn’t just about our global impact, it’s also about our pride in and care of our one twin-island home.

Every Styrofoam box that held fries and every cup that briefly contained corn soup will be poisoning our ecosystem after we are all dead, and our great grandchildren are left to suffer from the carelessness of our mess.

If the government decided that it would work with the private sector to coordinate availability of and emphasis on paper plates and cups to transform our social practices, and if they collaborated with the big profit-making bands and all-inclusive fetes to significantly reduce their footprint, then Carnival could fulfill the potential for not only its own beauty, but also as a maker of history on the anthropocene’s world stage.

The garbage we leave behind in the fete and on the road gets cleaned up and disappears from our immediate view and our short-term memory. However, it ends up somewhere and it remains the responsibility of each of us to catch up with a planet that needs us to no longer culturally celebrate an out-of-timing backwardness.

Every single one of us could demand better from our band, from the NCC, and from the Cabinet. All it takes is will, coordination, alternatives, and a little investment beyond the individual into an idea of a collective, and transformations that seem impossible can happen overnight.

As you jump up in the next week, take a second to look around at your feet, and at the garbage surrounding you. It’s such a different sight from the emphasis on dressing up and looking good, from playing a beautiful mas and playing your sequined and colourful body, but it’s where our real self – under the make-up and masquerade – is most visible.

How does it look? How do you think its looks to another generation learning that this is our greatest show on earth?

Every year, I wonder when Carnival will do it differently from the year before. I wonder if maybe we will do it out of love for our country or for the little children.

This year, as I walked through the space that means so much to so many, I wondered if, buoyed by music and spirit, we might chip away from our past and do it for something so close to our heart as our beloved Savannah grass.

 

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Post 265.

A Christmas Wish

I was wrapping Christmas gifts when I came across the BBC news story from November 3rd on a “colossal ‘sea of plastic’ which stretches for miles’ and was found floating in the Caribbean.

Miles of garbage in the very warm body of water which defines us, holds us, connects us, feeds us and heals us across our archipelago. The images are sickening, a prophesy of the sickness to follow up the food chain, into our drinking water, and into our own warm bodies. Amidst all our gathering today in the name of love, is this how we love ourselves and our own?

 I stopped wrapping, held still by a feeling of waste of precious time and of precious priorities. What did these gifts for Ziya matter when one of our greatest gifts lay in waste? What did any of our gifts matter, all over these islands, when we are withholding the real wealth and our greatest expression of love and generosity, because it requires us to sacrifice our bad habits; be real that our connection to each other, rather than consumerism, is what actually matters; and be accountable as adults and ancestors to our children and their children’s children?

I kept wrapping, imagining today’s familial bliss of presents given and received. I could also see the bags of garbage, that would pass on from house to house and from generation to generation from our ways of cherishing each other, ending up in Beetham or Guanapo or maybe just at sides of roads, and ultimately in our rivers and seas before washing right back towards our feet.

Like many of you, I profoundly love our islands’ rivers and sea shores. There are no places more sacred, no sites of communion more capable of expanding your heart and spirit, and bringing bliss and peace. Zi and I go to feed our souls, and hers finds its little way by carefully stepping through and around garbage, some washed up by the tide, some thrown next to trails by irresponsible individuals.

We’ve seen bits of so many gifts, so many family gatherings, so many efforts at community spirit strewn for miles as signs of how much less we care about ourselves and each other than we say we do, or maybe how much better we have to be about what care and love truly mean.

I continued to cut paper and stick the ends with scotch tape, thinking how everything is a cycle. Everything thing you do, every decision, comes back to you or your children. Every act has consequence. Every piece of plastic I throw away will eventually come right back to me or Ziya or those she loves.

Stick. Dream of the joy of children opening gifts. Think of the thousands of plastic and styrofoam plates, forks, spoons, bags, bottles, wrapping and cups thrown away today. See the very happiness of Christmas just as I see its implications for tomorrow

Greenpeace has an ongoing global campaign to save seas from plastic pollution. They are specifically targeting single use plastics, arguing especially against plastic bottles and bags. There’s a key line to their messaging which is that we have to think about reducing, not just recycling. We have to think about giving to seven generations, not just for today. And, if we did, how might that change today itself in our little twin-island Caribbean state?

Greenpeace itself says: “Recycling schemes are failing to keep up. We are calling on key environment ministers to lead the fight against plastic pollution. This means taking urgent measures to eliminate single-use plastic waste at its source…The moment to turn the tide is now!”

This is my Christmas wish. That these words stick with you and make you look at love, children, giving, receiving and sacrifice a little differently, and remind us all of our real gift-giving responsibilities and opportunities.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Post 227.

Only five years old, and not quite brave, my sapodilla, Ziya, has begun walking forest trails, as Amerindian folk once did, later followed by Africans escaping the fate of plantation enslaved, then by Indians and panyols working on cocoa estates.

These are just beginnings, which have so far taken her to Avocat waterfall, Paria waterfall, Carmelita waterfall, Turure waterfall, Matelot waterfall and Rio Seco waterfall.  Some paths have been difficult, like the slippery descent down the hill in Matelot or the muddy circuitous route into the forest from Salibya.

All have required her to learn to quiet her spirit and focus on the next step. All have shown her exactly how tree roots hold whole hillsides together, as we use them for balance around curves and inclines. She can see how rain pools between theses roots, understanding then, as her shoes sink into the muddy forest floor, how such ecoystems stop topsoil from washing away.

Reaching the waterfalls themselves is to come upon cathedrals built over thousands of years. The water rushing down has been circulating the earth since before the mass extinction of dinosaurs, and has been flowing in those rivers for millennia.

To realize we have inherited an island paradise like this, where waterfalls spring throughout the Northern range as well as in Tobago, and that many generations of one people or another have stood right on these river rocks, swam in just these cascading crystals, and observed both their science and their spirit, feels huge and historical and humbling.

There is all this that is ours, like a right, except that it’s not a right of ours, but a right of nature. Ecuador was the first country to recognize the “rights of nature” in its constitution. Bolivia has initiated the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. World leaders formally signed the Convention of the International Tribunal for the Rights of Nature in December 2015 in Paris.

In this emerging global governance framework, organizations and communities can take legal action against states and corporations in defense against destruction of our oceans and forests, water, soil, seeds and air.  Indigenous people are leading the way, as they continue to push back against a contemporary economy that relies on profits from resource consumption and depletion, and is now destroying life everywhere.

There is zero reason to wait for everything to fall apart to begin to properly protect the only sources of fresh water, fragile biodiversity, and freely bequeathed beauty that will sustain us for generations to come. With declining returns from oil and gas, which will continue to decline in net value when we factor in increasing environmental costs and the coming efficiency of renewable energy sources, nature is ever more precious.

Vandana Shiva, globally-renowed Indian scientist, started her ecological journey as a child following her parents in the Himalayas. “Everything I need to know I learned in the forest”, she says, “Today, at a time of multiple crises, we need to move away from thinking of nature as dead matter to valuing her biodiversity, clean water, and seeds. For this, nature herself is the best teacher”.

While she walks, Ziya’s learns other lessons. Those who also walk these trails leave every imaginable form of garbage along the way, stuffing juice boxes in tree stumps amidst moss and mushrooms, leaving Styrofoam boxes floating amongst rivers’ fishes.

Dozens of hiking businesses wretchedly fail to collectively keep clean the very trails from which they earn incomes. Zi clambered her way right to Turure’s rockface only to see it wholly defaced by graffiti, with names like scars showing violence without shame. Forestry Division exercises no real role or power here, so whole piles of garbage are dumped or left, and not one soul seems to care.

What does this teach about us as individuals, and about the state’s long-term public message, infrastructure and plan regarding waste management and nature? As Native American, Chief Seattle long warned, what befalls the Earth, befalls the children of the Earth. “Take only memories, leave nothing but footprints” are his words. As we leave, I wonder if there is enough will to ensure a future where Zi walks untainted trails with her own five year old.

Post 208.

As Ziya rolled in sandy ebb and flow at Maracas’ shoreline, a handful of friendly girls suddenly encircled us with a swirl of brown arms and legs. They drew Zi in, reaching for her hand, and asking her to go jump deeper into the waves.  A few brought Styrofoam cups to scoop up water and sand, throw in the air, and catch as they swept by amidst incoming foam. ‘Make sure not to leave the cups in the ocean’, I gently cautioned, ‘they will pollute the sea. ‘Auntie, what does pollute mean?’ one of them asked. She was eight years old, and the biggest of their brood.

How could children going to primary school not have encountered the idea of pollution? What are they being taught is the meaning of taking our very national identity as a twin-island republic from the blue, Caribbean sea? In an era when recycling, environmental conservation and climate change are words appearing weekly in newspapers, as politicians, parents, teachers, religious leaders, community activists, lawyers, doctors, engineers and artists, we are failing to give to children that crucial consciousness they already need.

While those girls were diving and floating, there wasn’t time to explain anything more than that to pollute is to poison. As I watched them then run onto the beach, they tossed away torn up pieces of those Styrofoam cups into the wind. A friend of mine picked up all the pieces and we threw them away in a garbage bin rather than see them get caught up and carried further from the shore.

Yet, stepping over chicken bones, bottle caps, crushed cigarettes, miscellaneous pieces of plastic, bits of paper food containers that once contained shark and bake, and more, on what is a disgusting mix of detritus and Maracas sand, Ziya’s enjoyment of our blessed ocean was shot through with real life lesson about how pervasive garbage is and what kind of failures exist in our national waste management policies. How can we teach children to love a country that we poison simultaneously?

Ziya is four, but because we discuss the environment often, she constantly brings up the fact that everything from her toothpaste to shampoo ends up in the ocean. It makes me ashamed, but I haven’t yet taken action to reduce these aspects of my own footprint. Nonetheless, her transparent observation calls me to account for myself, to acknowledge what harm I too am leaving her generation to inherit, to identify our unsustainable habits as the enemy of our children’s future.

We are the first generation of adults in all of human history to deny oncoming others what was handed down over millennia: clean air, earth and water.

We are poisoning the oceans, and already seeing the effects on marine life. Our seas are being filled with our garbage of all kinds, industrial and domestic, untreated and toxic. Reflecting our selfishness and shortsightedness, such garbage shows up at our feet on every coastline and river that was, less than two decades ago, garbage-free.

These are island children surrounded by ocean. Children who deserve to learn about how irresponsibility created ecological crisis as much as they are told about politeness. Children who must become consciousness of their standpoint in relation to the planet, for protecting it cannot be anything other than their first priority.

Who in the Ministry of Planning understands that the environment is an infinite economy? Who in the Ministry of Education sees schooling as beholden to teaching children the definitive global politics of their generation? Children will pay for our delay. None should still be wondering what pollution means.

Post 201.

Not long ago, Santa Cruz had many more bees and butterflies. Not long ago, garbage wasn’t filling our emptiest of North Coast beaches. Raising Ziya as much as possible between these two places, I often wonder how long it will take for us to feel what we still ignore, and I hope then it won’t be too late.

Bee and butterfly decimation has been directly connected to fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides, which cause rapid colony collapse and severely damage bees’ capacity to gather food, and therefore pollinate. Pesticides not only remain in soil, they also contaminate fields that haven’t been sprayed, pollen in other plants, and beehives themselves. Once bee and butterfly populations experience decimation, science suggests so will we, for we rely on insects like these to help produce our food.

The Wall Street Journal reported this year that, “more than 40% of U.S. honeybee colonies died in a 12-month period ending in April”. Norway has established a “bee highway”, offering food sources and resting spots as these insects move through Oslo. The US government has also planned a “1,500-mile corridor of vegetation between Mexico and Minnesota” to help protect Monarch butterflies.

All over Trinidad and Tobago, people are setting up apiaries to provide bees with a home, and to produce local honey. Those efforts are not enough however without a major shift away from pesticides in agriculture, and without greater national government protection against habitat loss. We can make that change right now if the consequences for our children click in our fast food brains. Pesticides are poison, and their effects inevitably move up our food system.

In my almost-weekly pilgrimage to the North coast’s rivers and beaches, I’ve noticed the vast increase in garbage over just this decade. Some comes from the sea, which absorbs millions of tons of waste each year. As I walked up Yara River three weeks ago, far into the green mountain, it took about an hour before we stopped seeing discarded biscuit wrappers, corn curls’ bags, shoes and, unbelievably, somebody’s red hairweave.

I wondered how long until my own days of walking heart-deep in these pristine currents are over, just as I wondered how long until the garbage truly makes it impossible to rest where the river meets the sea, and imagine it is still clean. A recent study of wild zooplankton, microscopic organisms that are eaten by small predators like shrimp and small fish, confirmed that they are ingesting plastic, something already known to be the case for turtles and birds feeding from oceans. Aside from the effects on marine life reproductive and digestive systems, again, think your way up the food chain and locate your children.

While the election campaign rolls on, no door-to-door national recycling programme was ever rolled out. We are decades behind our responsibility to future generations, without good reason. While the election battle is fought, where is the national programme fighting a crisis for global ecosystems and agriculture caused by mass killing of the very insects we need to help keep us alive? Remember, both PNM and UNC have been willing, when in power, to pursue their idea of ‘development’ without environmental, health or social impact assessments.

The PNM thought it was enough that the Water Pollution (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations (2006) allowed any polluter to pay a fixed annual permit fee of $10,000 regardless of the size of the industry, the amount of water pollutant to be released or the extent of environmental costs. On May 28, 2015, the PP Cabinet agreed to make available 240 acres of land in the Melajo Forest Reserve for mining, without tender, having chosen what they could do, rather than what they ought. A certificate of environmental clearance, water abstraction permits, and Town and Country approval are needed before licenses are distributed. When the money is privately gained, what will be the losses to affected watersheds? What decisions will be made without such accurate assessment?

Bee and butterfly loss is a massive cost our children will pay. A credible platform promise has targets, deadlines, measurables, and penalties for leaders and officials. Back in Santa Cruz, surrounded by quarries, I want us to ask politicians what promises they will make.