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 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 216.

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Photo credit: Nadia Huggins

For last Sunday’s #POStoParis march, I suggested Ziya’s sign should say ‘Stop Climate Change’. After all, the march from Nelson Mandela Park and around the Savannah was in solidarity with hundreds of thousands gathered across almost 180 countries to convince world governments, particularly China, the US and India, to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. These are considered to be at the heart of global warming’s effects: bleaching and death of coral reefs, melting of Arctic icebergs, intensifying of both storms and droughts, and increases in asthma and other illnesses.

Zi went for something with effective keywords, but incomplete sentence structure: ‘Consequences of pollution for Trinidad and Tobago’. The propagandist in me blinked at her ambiguous messaging. The grammarian in me decided to let it go, she’s five. The mother in me noted that her teachers’ efforts to give lessons about consequences, usually in relation to keeping quiet or one’s desk clean, had traveled across her brain to map onto pollution, and indeed its consequences.

Negotiations are currently happening in Paris at what is officially called the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Simply put, widespread hope is that whatever role carbon, methane and man-made pollutants are playing in harming our earth will be reduced, with an eye to the delicate balance sustaining health and life on our planet.

Wherever you fall in the climate change debate – that it is man-made and happening, that it isn’t man-made and nothing definitive is happening – these are important moments for creating a public open to rethinking our approach to plastics and recycling, industrial emissions and waste, and protection of key areas for conservation.

Sunday’s march followed one organized last year by IAMovement, a new group led by visionary young people. Their nascent efforts follow a long tradition of environmentally conscious organizing in Trinidad and Tobago, usually by small groups of committed individuals making a larger difference than expected, whether in relation to reforestation of the Northern Range or protection of the Nariva Swamp. Larger than last year, this time only about four hundred people came together to show such ecological consciousness remains alive.

There were many children, but visibly missing were those from Trinidad and Tobago’s vulnerable classes, from Sea Lots and Beetham Gardens. Also missing were fishing communities from Caroni and Mayaro, as well as unions like the OWTU who haven’t yet asserted power, as workers, to reduce the ecological costs of their industries. So, one of the challenges for this still-small public is to continue to grow nationally.

Those that are poorest remain the worst affected by climate change, such as when food prices rise because of drought. Governments most take on these issues when masses march, for decisions are rarely made because they are right but because they matter to voters. The quality of our air, rivers, seas and ecosystems is perhaps our most truly unifying issue, for generations of children could suffer, despite schooling, neighbourhood, jobs or colour, because we were too busy feting or fighting to focus on our duty to future citizens.

Toward a Paris agreement, Trinidad and Tobago has developed a Carbon Reduction Strategy for power generation, transportation and industrial sectors. The strategy is meant to be consistent with a National Climate Change Policy. Its goal is to reduce emissions from these sectors by 15%, and transportation emissions by 30%, by 2030.

This is an underwhelming step in the right direction, based more on our ranking number 62 in the world if classified by national greenhouse gas emissions than the other, inconvenient truth that we are the second highest producer of emissions per person. Transport contributes less than ten percent of such pollution. So, how will we actually decouple emissions from economic growth in a petro-state?

Turns out, Zi’s keyword was dead on. What will be the consequences of the COP21 not reaching consensus on reduction of carbon emissions, alternatives to fossil fuels and protecting forests? Are there consequences for a government which fails to fulfill our own carbon reduction strategy? And, in the end, who will face the consequences of man-made climate shifts? See what is missing from Zi’s sentence. Then, see what answer fits.

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.