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.

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Post 160.

As Santa Cruz develops, almost completely unregulated, I’ve seen its green bamboo beauty turned to dust. One misty morning, standing at my kitchen window, my eyes clouded as I saw the forest on the hill in front of me being torn down. The sound of trees cracking as they fall is surely identical to a heart breaking. Besides their whispering with the wind, that crashing cry is the only and last sound those giants make. My joints hurt as I heard them splinter.

I thought of the birds who spent many days and nights in those trees, and who were watching their habitat fall to its knees. Above the tractor, I couldn’t hear their songs or their alarmed calls to each other, but if I felt helpless in the face of such harm, surely so did they.

I have power though. I could help build the movement to regulate development so that we learn better co-existence with the ecosystems around us. I could pursue changed processes and rules, and increase public commitment to different possibilities. Some trees will fall, but many could be saved even while we erect our own barren forests of asphalt and concrete. It’s a matter of choosing to challenge an unnecessary injustice to other species who have just as much claim as we do, and to do so right to the very end, sacrificing whatever is necessary as an act true, deep care. It’s a matter of vision. Not only what I felt as I watched those trees die, not only what alternative I could imagine, but what I pictured as my own responsibility for our image of development.

In Mon Desir a few hours later, a kindly man whose home is facing the same fate as the trees, gave me a neem sapling from his garden. If the government has its way, that little sprout, now given soil in Santa Cruz, will become a living memory of a habitat soon completely erased. Those tiny leaves made me reflect on how many days and nights it took to build a house, wait to reap from a plum tree, bury a baby’s navel string, cultivate a garden, grow children in the backyard, and give meaning to a landscape through generations of love. What will be lost when there is nothing but a highway extension, and what is our role in making development responsible to the souls and spaces it will irrevocably change?

Just as abundant wildlife are facing oncoming tractors, so too are families in Mon Desir. They are connected. For example, when mountains are quarried to build a roadway for future tar sand mining, both ecosystems and communities will be razed, leaving me feeling I should be doing more even after a long, long day.

Those families in Mon Desir have a right to due process, to promises kept, to transparency and truth. That highway extension is taking down whole communities, too few of us hearing their calls of alarm, too few defending yet another site from being leveled by the same governance issues: gaps in public planning, institutional lethargy, too few necessary state protections, and too little mix of development, community and sustainability. As I left Mon Desir’s spirit of resistance, I wondered how to protect those lives nested in Santa Cruz’s trees before me.

A neem plant, from a Mon Desir backyard threatened with extinction, will survive in Santa Cruz while the tree-cover of Santa Cruz, similarly threatened, will slowly be clear cut and paved? There is a vision and responsibility to more powerfully wield for such beloved homes to be defended and saved.