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 152.

Zi and Titanus Giganteus

In my mother’s era, even girls could roam their neighborhood unsupervised, playing with children, visiting neighbors and collecting assorted species of fish, frog and fauna in ravines or nearby streams.

The majority of children of Ziya’s generation will never have that experience. We adults have almost irreversibly polluted many of the rivers near our homes with garbage and poison. It’s risky for any mother to allow her young daughter to wander freely. Living at odds with our environment and each other is a cost that will be borne by those now being born.

I try to make up for that generational loss by taking Zi to clean streams or empty stretches of beach as often as I can. I avoid Maracas, and dream that the $78 million planned upgrade includes rehabilitation of the river’s ecosystem. Anything is possible with a vision, and we are responsible for protecting mangroves, coasts and fresh watercourses for our children.

Teaching Zi that girls can be explorers, not just the “princess-mermaids” that she and her school friends pretend to be, we study tadpoles in various stages of growth, assess the shape and colour of shells, rocks and plant life, and look for fish and crabs. Mostly, I’m hoping that her trips to Yara River, Avocat waterfall or Balandra enable her to become the kind of woman who is curious about and committed to the earth, wildlife and science.

I don’t want her to be afraid. I want her to be aware of what roles bats, lizards, bees, bachacs and snakes play, and why they have a right to be here. I want her to be willing to hold grasshoppers in her hand, catch little crabs without harming them, and carefully dissect unfamiliar dead insects.

This weekend, we showed Zi a dead Titanus Giganteus beetle caught in the backyard. Even lifeless, it is intimidating, and I had no plans to hold it in my hand. To Stone’s horror (I mean it, I saw him sway on his feet with herculean effort to appear nonchalant) and to my own surprise, Zi nimbly picked it up like she was selecting a cupcake from a tray. The body was bigger than her hand, and the legs and antennae dangled for inches. Girl didn’t flinch. I was impressed. It was one of those mummy moments when your child surpasses you, does something that you’d been teaching her to do, and just so shows you how it is done.

It seems irrelevant, but children, especially girls, are taught so much fear. We parent through fear. We teach girls to fear strangers and especially men. We teach them to fear their bodies and their sexuality. We teach them to fear being seen as too powerful or too dominant or too unstoppable or too feminist. We teach them to fear the wild, the dark and being outside alone.

Resisting this, I want Zi to learn everyday fearlessness, like Jane Goodall who went out into the forest and sat with gorillas for hours by herself, like my youngest sister Giselle who handles cobras with skill and due respect, like my women friends who are not intimidated by local tarantulas or by surfing the deep ocean. I want her to fear everything less than I do, to show me her nurtured instinct for a braver world.

Curiosity, courage and connection with the planet don’t seem like skills that girls most need, but they translate to confidently asking questions of the status quo, valuing widespread freedom and diversity, understanding how to contribute to a bigger ecology, and bringing fearlessness to whatever vision Zi decides should succeed.