Women 350 – Statement on International Day of Climate Action

October 24, 2009 Port of Spain, Trinidad.   We are concerned citizens of Trinidad & Tobago and Caribbean.
We are the mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, lovers, wives, and workers.
Our countries are blessed with natural resources. Yet we are pursuing a model of development that is destroying our most important resource and our people.
Everywhere around the world today, people are joining forces to lend their voices to an important cause. We join them now.
Climate change is here. Climate change is now. In other parts of the world people on small islands are already being affected by climate change.
You don’t have to go to the south Pacific. Just take a drive down to Icacos and see for yourself the evidence of rising sea levels.
It does not have to be this way. We have the power to make a change now. We must make the change now. We cannot abandon future generations.
We appeal to our fellow citizens to take responsibility for your actions.
We call on you to understand what climate change is and how it affects you.
We call on you to adjust your lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint.
We call on you to plant more of your own food and to eat less meat.
We call on you to demand stronger environmental legislation.
We call on you to hold our leaders accountable to all the international conventions they sign that rarely get enforced in national legislation.
We call on you to demand genuine development not this tidal wave of social and environmental destruction crashing down on our nations.
Our countries cry out and are being damaged by the scourge of crime.
But we remain silent on the crimes against the environment. These are crimes against ourselves and our children.
Our leaders give us confusing messages. Our leaders say they care about climate change and are concerned about the environment. It is a care that we have yet to see manifest in policies, in planning, in education, and action.
We want to remind elected leaders that you are there in service of the people. It is not the other way around. We appeal to you to stop dancing to the tune of technocrats and move with the rhythm of the people.
We appeal to you to embrace a genuine vision of development, one that gives us cleaner air, one that protects our ecological security, and one that encourages businesses and employment opportunities that enhance rather than destroy our resources.
Today on the International Day for Climate Action we take a stand. Today we let our voices be heard.
Let our voices be a call to action and let the action be as loud and as clear as collective as our voices.

Please wear white and join us as we take public action on Climate Change at 3.50 p.m. in Queen’s Park Savannah (opposite Whitehall).

Women 350 – Climate Action in Trinidad!

We are a collective of women of Trinidad and Tobago.
We are gathering to add our voices to the international call.
Trinidad and Tobago is a wealthy small island developing nation rich in oil and natural gas. But we are also seeing the damaging effects of aggressive industrialisation on our islands.
This is an opportunity for women’s voices to be heard.
Our event centres around a smoke ceremony from the most forgotten voice of indigenous women of Trinidad and Tobago.
We are asking all women to come to the Queen’s Park Savannah wearing white. We are asking men to come and lend their voices in support at 3.50 p.m.
We will make the 350 with our bodies, in this way, we all take responsibility for making 350 a reality.
We all have a part to play and Saturday is a call to arms for women from all communities to begin to be conscious of climate change and how it will affect the lives of all islanders.

Rain down on Me.

The rain comes like a pleasant surprise on a Thursday night. And you forget the crushing heat of the day. The feeling that you would melt into a puddle of sweat and be evaporated, leaving behind a pile of hair and salt as the only reminders of your existence. When it gets that hot even the hummingbirds forget which way is up. Reason abandons you and all you want to do is think cool thoughts and then you turn on the radio and Papa Patos is saying something to make your brains sizzle.Your plants protest, the fever grass leaves turn into spears protesting that the morning’s offerings were insufficient to survive the day. The ground is dry again. The sun relentless. The ineptitude of politicians unchecked. The emptiness of your bank account consistent. But then the clouds gather because the universe takes pity on your helplessness. A breeze passes to cool your hot brains. The rain comes like a sigh of relief. Making you want to drop everything you are doing and retire to bed where, under the galvanize it sounds like the best possible symphony. Thunder rumbles and you resurrect the smells of my grandmother’s kitchen—chocolate tea with an oily film at the top of your favourite cream chipped enamel cup. The smell of cheese as it melts between a piece of bake.  It’s the simple things you conjure in the magic of night rain.

In the rain listen to a little Lata Mangeshkar, understanding what she sings only from the sheer pain in her voice. It is a love song no doubt, they are always love songs.  Love for God and man and the trees and all the other things that live in your ecosystem. Imagine your plants revelling in the wet earth. In the rain your can hear things growing and you are glad to be here and part of it. Things that set root and push out of the ground. Mangoes and manicous share the joy of the rain. And in the morning after the rain the night before, the pumpkin leaves are bigger and the peppers redder and the pigeon peas a little taller. Mint and tomatoes push purposefully upwards. And if you were a better farmer, you would plant people too. You would sow good politicians and men who love their children and their women. You would plant a crop of humans who would take root in the soil and nourish it. Hold on to it. Give to it and take from it in an endless cycle.

In the rain and the rumbling of thunder that vibrates your bed and the wood of your floor and your old windows and the beautifully rusting galvanize you are glad to live in the tropics. Glad that most of the time it is pleasant enough for you to wander about without having the fix your mind to be in confrontation with nature.  When it rains here, you can dance in it, catch rainflies, squish your toes and hope that some parasite doesn’t take up residence in your nails. The rain continues all night into the morning. Keeping you rooted there. You don’t have to get up to wet your plants. You don’t have a job to be reporting too. It is dark and warm like a womb must have been. You are glad for the extra time. When it rains here people stay home to hug up their loved ones, to find the warmth and love they thought they had lost, to dream dreams that sometimes are missed in the quest to beat the traffic, be productive citizens, join the rat race.

The rain slows us down to remind us of the things that perhaps are more important. The unnoticed things. Things growing and dying and living in our ecosystems that we might not notice in the hum of our electric lights in the concreteness of our jungles. And you hope the rain can wash away the thick film of stink that settles over everything here. You hope that the rain can wash away all the blood, all the disappointment, all the confusion and frustration. You hope that the rains will keep this gentle tempo and not rise into a rushing roaring torrent to punish us for our many many sins. You hope that this rain only brings good things. That this rainy season stays wet but not drowning. Delightfully moist but not too soggy so that the roots of your growing things drown from the excess. Drown before they bear fruit.  Are destroyed by the very thing that gives them life. The rains are tears that bring joy. A necessary sadness to bring new life and make you love the sunlight and the greenness of the hills some more.

A different kind of action

Wherever the revolution begins
It’s there I want to be
Tell me, are you ready?
Ready for the revolution?
Wherever the Revolution Begins, Sheldon Blackman

I have been, like a good hippy environmentalist type, freaking out about various things happening with the world.
After years of privately being alarmed, it’s interesting that these concerns have taken hold in the mainstream.  Although you can still find the odd stiff necked business article talking about the melting of the Arctic shelf being a leftist conspiracy.
I can’t really see what the lefties are getting out of being able to say we told you so.
Because really it’s the capitalists who stand to benefit the most from heightened levels of eco-consciousness.  Every car company realizes that they have to actually look interested in alternative energy sources or make their cars gas sippers instead of guzzlers.
Even governments realize that they have to talk the talk, even if they aren’t walking the walk.  Even our own dear Prime Minister has to go about the world saying that he’s all for kicking the carbon habit even as communities here are being convinced that smelters and steel mills are the best way forward for them.
Maybe my hippy tree hugger sensibilities are making me have a skewed sense of priorities and right now I should be more concerned or rather, outright alarmed at the microscopic size of my account balance.
I suppose money is important as I am currently on the bottom end of rich and therefore cannot afford that ultimate utopian form of mass transit, the bicycle. Nor the hospital bills if one of the crazed drivers on the street were to decide they didn’t want me on the street anymore.
The good thing about big developed countries who have brought the world to the brink of destruction thanks to their century of industrialization, is that they can now afford to have bicycle lanes in the hearts of their cities and if they don’t, the lefties stage critical mass protests and thousands of cyclists reclaim the streets.
Sometimes I have hippy fantasies about no cars in downtown Port of Spain, about park and ride schemes and car pooling. And sometimes I even go all out and imagine how revolutionary it would be if our government would start by putting some EMA environmental officers to ride around the city and various other parts of the country monitoring things like emissions on our behalf.
At some point however I wake up from my hippy fantasies and the growing alarmishness and decide that I need to start taking a different kind of action.
So last weekend, I took my first introduction to permaculture workshop with artist/activist John Stollmeyer, and we all reasoned about global warming and peak oil and how much we’ll have to go back to all the things we seem to be actively trying to forget.  
Like gayaps and sharing the wealth of your yard with your neighbours and everybody minding two, three fowls and a goat and how all those things are multi-functional and interdependent.
The basic philosophy behind permaculture is as old as the hills and maybe older.  That everything has more than one purpose.  That you can eat your fowls but they also provide manure.  That when you prune your trees, you’re undermining the fertility of your garden by sending the cuttings to the La Basse.
The wise plan for lean times, for drought and flood and misfortune.  They don’t wait till the Caroni bursts its banks to start making provisions for the escalating prices of tomatoes.
Knowing how to feed yourself and your family is perhaps a far better life insurance policy these days.
But the wise also had better get wise to the fact that although the government is giving away seeds, my farmer friends say that many of our indigenous varieties of things like corn and cucumber have been breeded out of existence and now what we’re getting is the genetically modified varieties that have limited life spans that can’t be germinated unless some lab tech and not a bird or bee gets at it.
In my poor pedestrian state I walk about the city and marvel at all the empty lots, all the abandoned yards overrun with mosquito breeding bush, that could be transformed into what Johnny and other permaculturists call edible landscapes.
I’m thinking guerilla gardening and trees growing out of concrete edifices.  I’m thinking that every office should have some part devoted to growing things.  And every community composting its organic waste.  Funny how we have all these conveniences to make our lives easier but we still can’t find time to do things like learn to be self-sufficient.
Like digging your fingers into the cool earth, watching a seed you planted push up and take root and bear fruit for you to enjoy.
Maybe peak oil and all the disasters we have in our collective futures are not such a bad thing after all.  Some of us who have forgotten in our quest for shiny air conditioned convenience might have a chance to really learn what matters.

Waiting for the Flood

If you wan go wash – water you go use
If you wan cook soup- water you go use
If your head be hot – water it cool am
If your child dey grow – water you go use
If water kill your child – water you go use
Nothing without water
Water it no get enemy
No go fight am, unless you wan die

Water No Get Enemy, Fela Anikulapo Kuti

The first time I heard Fela Kuti’s Water No Get Enemy when I was somewhat of a grown-up, something clicked inside my head and I spent a whole year walking around Babylon-don whistling it.  It’s one of those endless Fela songs with one verse and so much music, that moves between funk and jazz and happy and dread and although you want to dance, you also want to start a revolution. 

The message is obvious, water is the source of life, we are nothing without water.  The subtext that I later read about likens the people of Nigeria the common masses, as water to the politicians that they put in power.  The politicians are nothing without the people, in the same way that all of us are nothing without water.  If you fight water, you will die.

An important lesson to remember on this weekend of swells that only surfers should dare to try and conquer.  On this weekend when we remember the man who walked on water two thousand years ago.

On this weekend when spring comes in a joyous outpouring of colour, in clouds of abeer and chowtal singing. 

Today is also World Day for Water and I wonder if my dear friends at the EMA are concerned about how we are nothing without it.

I’ve been thinking about water a lot these days. How living on a small island preconditions you to take it for granted.  How much I love a long cool shower at the end of a hot day.  How many people in Trinidad still don’t have access to that luxury. 

I’ve also been thinking about how somebody last year mysteriously removed quarrying from the list of industries that require a Certificate of Environmental Clearance.

Because of course it makes sense to undermine our main source of clean water, in return for more buildings.  It makes sense, doesn’t it, to sacrifice the Northern Range that regulates run off and retention of water.

The thirty five water sheds in the Northern Range and five major aquifer systems mean less to us than quarries for a few companies to benefit.  Never mind that the Northern Range, according to what the professionals say, provides something like 80 per cent of the country’s water needs, including the millions of gallons that get wasted, and the millions of gallons that supply the heavy gas based industries, but can’t somehow find their way into people’s houses.

And I wonder where the management is, where the protection is.  Who is defending us from ourselves, those of us who like to dump our fridges in rivers.  Who is defending  us from ourselves, those of us who like to dump our toxic chemicals in our rivers.  Who is defending us from ourselves, those of us who think that it’s okay to undermine our natural resources, like fresh water is a renewable resource if you take away the things that renew it?

Water no get enemy, indeed.   We are nothing without water, Fela sings in my head as I watch quarry scars on my hills get bigger.  Now that you don’t need a CEC for a quarry up to 149 acres in size, I wonder how much more of us will be reduced to nothingness.

The people are water, polluted, dumped on, taken for granted.

On this day of water, I’m wondering when the water gets damn vex and turns into an almighty flood.

A Heart of Gold



It’s late afternoon in Port-of-Spain and I want to get home. But I don’t feel to fight. I’m saving my energy to try and process exactly what Papa Patos means by climate change is a top priority.

I tell myself it’s not that far. From Newtown to St Ann’s is doable, under the right conditions. It’s a spitefully clear day and the sun stands in the sky daring me to test him.

At the top of Maraval Road there are others waiting to go home. School children and office ladies. A construction worker who says he’s from Kashmir wants directions to town and then wants to know if I have a husband.

Cars whiz past as if I’m not there. It takes me ten minutes until some kind soul decides to slow down and let me cross. I don’t even bother to stand there waiting for a taxi.

Pedestrians are the casualties of a developing country still caught up in people have things. Taxi drivers make style on you. Maxi drivers want to mow you down. Every car that passes is carries one or two passengers. They speed past in their brand new aluminum cans, music loud, air condition on full blast.

My bag is heavy on my back but my granny used to say what you can’t carry you will have to drag. My steps are slow and deliberate but I am determined to get home by my own strength today.

I cut through by QRC, past polite boys who say good afternoon to me and I want to faint with relief that they don’t add ‘Miss’. Past coconut vendors and vagrants quarters. Past stylish young women indulging in the only socially acceptable way to be seen without a car in public, doing a walk and wine around the Savannah in that golden hour when everyone sees you and there’s a lot of stopping and how you doing.

To the left the Prime Minister’s office gleams white and untouchable. I wonder if he notices how hot it is these days. How much hotter Port of Spain is now.

When you get to the middle the din of hundreds, thousands of cars speeding past is barely discernible. The sky is that perfect shade of blue and the sun has graciously hidden itself behind the trees.

Football players and rugby players all around but I wonder how come there aren’t people just enjoying the Savannah. I guess it’s a weekday. But what better way to remind yourself that you live in a beautiful country? dsc03922.jpg

Savannah is green for now. Before the rains stop and the hills start to burn. The hills of the Northern range are green. Well these ones here. But now that anyone can put up a quarry under 150 acres without having to apply for a CEC, I wonder how long it will be before all these hills start looking like the one up in Acono in Maracas St Joseph. But I guess these hills will be spared because a lot of rich people live there. They’ll put them further east, where the rich people won’t have their green vistas marred by brown scars being created to build more air conditioned townhouses.

I stop in the middle of the Savannah, facing east to take pictures so I can capture a few shots of my walk home. Point and shoot to the left and the green hills. Then look to the right at the buildings stabbing up at the sky. Exclamation marks of our hysteria to be developed. I swear the Savannah earth beats under my feet. Like a hundred steelbands mixed with the jumping feet of ten thousand masqueraders. The sun re-emerges for a las’ lap and everything turns gold. The Savannah shines like a heart of gold in a rotting city. I turn my back to the exclamation marks and quicken my steps towards the hills.

The grass is soft under the worn soles of my designer washicongs.

I wish I could do cartwheels, because I’m so happy to be in this heart called the Queen’s Park Savannah.

I’m relieved that I decided to walk instead of wait in the dust and fumes of traffic jams trying to get home.

I’m glad that in all the madness I can find one thing to make me sane again. To give a little space to think and work things out. To remember why Trinidad is worth fighting for. To pity people like Papa Patos who probably never have a chance to walk home so they can listen to the city’s heart.



Everyone but T&T

A Union village resident surveys the 800 acres cleared for an industrial estate
You know there’s no place like planet home
Nowhere else I would rather be
It’s the only place I know
Where you can witness tragedy
There’s no time to wonder now
About who is right or wrong
We’re Gonna need some help to get things straight
So come on bring your advice along
Planet Home, Jamiroquai

The temperature hit 36 degrees this week in Trinidad and that managed to not make front page.
Time was when the average temperature in Trinidad never went above 32.
Meanwhile, everybody else in the world is talking about climate change. Today in cities all over the heart of the beast that is the United States of America, regular Americans will be calling for action on climate change. Regular Yanks will be demanding an 80 per cent carbon cut by 2050.
Meanwhile, guilty liberals like New Yorker Colin Beavan are embarking on no impact living projects where they are making an attempt to shrink the environmental impact of human life on the environment.
The latest buzz term for this year in enviro chic circles in Europe and North America is carbon neutral.
The so-called first world is moving on from the century plus of damage they’ve done. They all act very contrite now in retrospect that industrialization and the rise of the corporation in this past century were terribly evil and destructive forces.
And now that the guilty liberals are getting more leverage and all the Hollywood arty farty types are jumping on the green bandwagon, it’s suddenly okay to care about Climate Change.
Not in sweet T&T though. A Guardian editorial earlier this week glibly says that Trinidad should not shelve it’s own industrialization drive just because everybody else is freaking out about global warming. I mean to say, what do melting polar ice caps have to do with us?
I guess by 2020 when it’s about 40 degrees somebody might write an editorial saying that maybe it might be time for us to start thinking about saving what’s left of our environment.
There might still be some of the Northern Range then. Uncle Bas might still be in court and police officers would have been replaced by upright blimps.
Trinidad will be known around the world as the land of smog and plastic bottles.
I guess at that point maybe somebody might remember that back in the late 90’s our government signed all these international declarations like the Kyoto Protocol and the Vienna Convention on Ozone Depletion.
Somebody might even remember that we have a National Environmental Policy of 2005 that says:
“National physical development and planning policies must address, in a realistic and holistic way, the need to stabilize population growth, reduce poverty and promote equal access to all national services. An ecologicial approach to human settlements planning must be implemented in order to make our villages, towns and citie clean,green and efficient. Strategies and plans must be introduced to reserve the most fertile soils for agriculture and to utilize existing agricultural land optimally.”
Take and look around and see if you can find one example of that policy in action.
Anyway, I want to wish the Americans all the best on their call for action, because Jah knows, they’re responsible for a lot of it.
The jokey thing about it is that the newly assembled United States Climate Action Partnership includes businesses like my favourite multi-national, none other than the goodly Alcoa.
Because what’s going on is that the guilty liberals in the First World are still yet to fully reject their consumerist culture. So what’s a corporation like Alcoa to do? If they can’t get away with it in their own backyard, take it to the Third World. This is not just an environmental issue, it’s a labour issue, a poverty issue, a gender issue.
Perhaps Uncle Fidel is right to say that he doesn’t want to talk too much about alternative forms of energy because that’s just creating ways to continue to feed the greed of the North. Ethanol for MTV’s pimped rides and solar power for Al Gore’s heated outdoor swimming pool.
The world’s poor, some of whom exist right outside our doors, are going to be the most affected by Climate Change. Already the billionaires are heading for outer space tourism. Who’s to say the rich minorities aren’t going to make a big stinking mess out of this beautiful blue green marble and then ride out without as much as a backward glance?