Be Champions Like Brathwaite!

‘Champion, Champion, everybody knows West Indies are Champions!’ By now, everyone in the Caribbean region has witnessed the magnificent victory by the new ICC (International Cricket Council) T20 World Cup Cricket Tournament Champions, the West Indies in India last week. Of course we have also watched the brilliant Carlos Brathwaite of Barbados hit those sixes into the stands in the final nail-biting over of the match. Most of you have spontaneously burst into the well-known ‘Champion Dance’ once or twice after the win. Like Mr. Brathwaite and the triple champion teams, I am urging that we, the inhabitants of the Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS), hit fossil fuel use for six, out of our islands. We can become the champions of renewable energy use in the world.

But can we really do without fossil fuels? I mean, we use it every single day for almost everything, such as charging our many electronic devices, cooking, transportation and surprisingly, water use. Many might not know that the water sector is the largest user of fossil fuels on the islands. When you drink a glass of water do you know how much fuel you have just consumed? Electricity, generated by fossil fuels, is used to supply and distribute water to homes, schools and businesses daily.

Therefore, when you waste water, you are wasting the fossil fuel used to produce it, resulting in harm to the environment and by extension your personal health. We know gas and oil is not cheap, especially for those who have to commute to Bridgetown daily for work. As a SIDS, we are known to be highly dependent on fossil fuel imports in order to survive. We need to cut the metaphorical umbilical cord which attaches us to oil and break free from this tie. Petroleum has us wrapped around her little finger but we need to unwrap ourselves somehow. Fossil fuel use contributes to climate change, climate change in turn affects us with projected longer droughts and with longer droughts more energy may have to be used to find more water which we do not exactly have. This is why water conservation is critical.

We all have heard that Barbados is a water-scarce country and within the top ten in the world. This is why wise water use is important, especially during this time of drought. Saving water may save not only your life but the lives of your neighbours.

Whilst water-scarce countries do not have a lot of fresh water and going through a drought, we sure do have a lot of something else: sunlight or solar energy which can be harnessed for electricity. Do not get me wrong, solar power use has been a staple in Barbados for many years. We have even been lauded as leaders in solar power use in the world during the International Year of SIDS (2014) when the world celebrated small islands, especially during World Environment Day celebrations as the host country. We then need to up our game never the less and start the move away from our high dependence on petroleum.

But what can we do without fossil fuels you ask? I know what! We can survive at least a little bit longer on these little rocks in the sea. Let us be champions like our West Indies team and the exemplary Brathwaite, and break free from this fossil fuel choke-hold.

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The Thirst is Real!

The heat has been quite unbearable for the past year which were the hottest 14 consecutive months on record. Could this be why the marine debris generated from the beverage industry topped the 2015 finds during the Caribbean segment of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC)?

In the recently released 2015 Trash Free Seas report of the Ocean Conservancy’s ICC, marine debris was removed from beaches in 16 Caribbean countries. Just over 36 000 citizen scientists removed about 400 000 pounds of solid waste from beaches and the marine environment.

Table 1: Top 5 items found in the Caribbean

Rank

Item Percentage
1 Plastic Beverage Bottles 28.4%
2 Cigarette Butts 16.5%
3 Plastic Bottle Caps 13.7%
4 Glass Beverage Bottles 7.7%
5 Metal Bottle Caps 6.5%

From the table above, four out of the top five items originated from the beverage industry. Even more worrying, is that one-quarter of the plastic beverage bottles collected worldwide, came from the Caribbean. In addition, the amount of money that could have possibly been made through recycling these bottles alone could have paid for a small car (12500 USD) with just over 60% of the bottles collected from Jamaica.

Furthermore, sixty percent (60%) of the weight of marine debris collected in the region came from Guyana and Puerto Rico combined. On the other hand, in Guyana, there was a significantly higher density of 21225 pounds per km, while in Puerto Rico, there were only 293 pounds per km. This means that more garbage was found in a smaller area in Guyana (4.8km) than in Puerto Rico (410.1km). That is extremely disquieting since none of other countries could even get near to 10 000 pounds per km.

The ICC, the largest volunteer effort in the world, volunteers from service clubs, youth-led organisations such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) and government agencies coordinate the cleanups and schools, public and private sector play their part to clean up the mess that others make. Not only do they rid the beaches of debris, but they also record the very data that go into the reports.

But why litter or dump? Some have the ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome where once their houses and yards are clean, they would not mind dumping their waste onto other persons’ properties. Some think it is convenient to litter rather than try to find a trash can. On the other hand, there are some countries with exorbitant taxes coupled with inadequate collection services and no recycling initiatives, which does not help the situation.

Another key point is that while littering and dumping can affect your own country, it could become problematic for others as well. This is because trash can travel along ocean currents and wash up on the coasts of other countries. Therefore, sometimes during cleanups, trash from other countries are found, especially on the east and south coasts of the Lesser Antilles.

All things considered, knowing and doing is not the same thing. Persons must realise that there is a cost to dumping and littering which they are already paying for. When you dump or litter, you and other persons can become ill, you are paying for healthcare, you are paying for the cleanup services, you are paying for tourism maintenance, you are paying for cleaner safer water and you are paying for educational programmes on the harms of dumping and littering. So you choose. You can save or even gain money from not littering or dumping or continue to waste your money.

 

 

Reducing environmental impacts at the UN Biodiversity Conference

I have heard some people complain that hosting large global environmental Conferences like the Convention on Biological Diversity (UN-CBD) are unnecessary and very expensive. Not only in economic costs, but to the environment, especially when participants travel long distances and cross time zones to attend conferences. They often speak of the large carbon footprint that attendees have and a virtual conference might be better. Even to Cancun, my flight there racked up a carbon footprint of about 1.1 million tonnes of carbon and I live in the Caribbean! However, to offset the carbon footprint, and to be as ‘green’ as possible, the Government of Mexico and CBD Secretariat have made attempts. With Earth Day coming up this Saturday (22nd April), I will share my experiences.

Reducing plastic use

Every delegate was presented with a stainless steel water bottle so that they could refill their bottles at water stations at the venue. At some of them you could’ve even gotten hot water to make your tea and there was usually free freshly brewed coffee nearby. This aimed to reduce the number of plastic bottles used and disposed of for bottled water. There were also no foam or plastic takeaway containers! The disposable cups (hot and cold), plates, containers and utensils were made completely of plant-based materials. Moreso, the plastic-looking and feeling cups were made of plant-based materials as well. 

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Plants everywhere

One of the very first things I noticed at the venue was the vast number of plants. There were thousands of potted plants everywhere. All were very familiar tropical coastal plants such as sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), fat pork/cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco), Beach Naupaka (Scaevola taccada), Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis), and varieties of Ficus and Crotons. They were mounted on wooden stands, stacked on the floor and on shelves of the conference venue and outside. Plants produce oxygen and with thousands of people visiting the venue, they helped to improve the oxygen content. I attempted to count them but I gave up after 800 and those were only from a small area. I heard later that there were over 7000 plants at the venue!

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Plants at the venue. Photo credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

Transportation

There were shuttle buses provided for participants between the venue, hotels and airport at scheduled times for the duration of the conference. Participants also had access to conference-branded bicycles to get from one place to the next. First of all the Moon Palace Resort was humongous. It is 123 acres of hotels, golf courses, the conference centre, pools and a rich bio-diverse mangrove swamp, with birds, mammals, rodents, reptiles and I cannot forget the very large and fearless mosquitoes. These were used by delegates to get around the hotel along with golf carts. 

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Coati on the Golf Course. Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

 

Bicycle
Source: IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin 

 

Wood no plastic!

Exhibition booths, stands, seats and signs were all made of wooden pallets rather than plastic or metal. I wondered though if these were made of old pallets which were restored and reconstructed or if they were made from fresh wood. I hope it’s the former.

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

There were different waste bins to separate recyclables, strategically placed all over the venue. This was a part of the waste management programme stated in the participants’ note. This included collecting glass, plastic, paper and cardboard, aluminium, used cooking oil, organic waste, multi-layered containers and electronics and appropriate management of chemicals and dangerous wastes.

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Garbage Bins; Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy 2016

Less AC, less fossil fuel use

Another thing I was extremely happy about was the reduced air conditioning. I am not a fan of cold temperatures and usually in the Caribbean, the AC is usually very frigid and uncomfortable. However, the conference rooms were a comfortable temperature and there was no need for thick jackets. Participants were even asked to dress elegantly casual or “smart casual” for all the meetings.

All in all, I was very happy and enlightened by the conference and all the side events. As a youth delegate representing the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) and Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN), this was my first Conference of the Parties of any of the 3 Rio Conventions (Climate Change, Biodiversity and Sustainable Land Management). I dreamt of participating in one since I studied natural resources management and it definitely lived up to my expectations. The experience there was amazing; learning about all the different activities that countries and organisations are doing to preserve biodiversity. I had some comfort in knowing that at an environmental conference, efforts were made to implement conservation practices. However, a few questions came to mind: what was done with the plants after the conference? What happened to the wooden structures after? Were the separated waste items really disposed of correctly? Just a thought!

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Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016

 

Land Use and Climate Change on an Island: Chalk and Cheese?

What does land use have to do with climate change? Everything. They are not like ‘chalk and cheese’ like persons may think. How our 166 square miles are managed, directly determines our future on this beloved rock.

Aerial View of Barbados
Aerial View of Barbados (Source:Jessie R on Pinterest)

Land is definitely a key limiting factor to a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) and can definitely determine our resilience to potential climate change impacts. When land is limited, there are several competing uses for the same space such as industrial and manufacturing, educational, residential, agriculture, tourism, urban areas, solid waste disposal, and not to be forgotten, natural ecosystems such as forests, streams and mangroves. Therefore, sustainable land management is critical. When conducting research on the effects of changing land use patterns and climate change impacts on food security in Barbados, coincidentally enough, the first question some persons I pitched it to asked me was ‘what’s the link between climate change and land use?’

Brownes Beach Flooded
Flooded Beach in Barbados (Source: Richard Burke, Facebook)

According to a United States’ Environmental Protection Agency’s publication, land use planning plays a significant role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate. Additionally, it is critical in assisting communities to adapt to sea level rise, more intense weather conditions and other climate-related hazards. Land management has energy implications as well. The more developed or built-up areas are, the hotter it gets, and therefore, an increased need for air conditioning, resulting in higher electricity or fuel bills.

Correspondingly, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported in a 2010 National Environmental Summary for Barbados, it was revealed that land management was inefficient in Barbados pertaining to climate change adaptation. It was further stated that land use has changed rapidly over the years from agriculture to a more built-up environment, which may have potentially devastating consequences such as flooding and land degradation. This would therefore increase our already vulnerable state.

From a 2015 report from the Barbados Chapter of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), preliminary results showed that 99% of 400 surveyed young Barbadians – aged 15-31 years – believed that sustainable land management is important for Barbados. However, 92% were of the opinion that the land was not being managed well at present. Also, climate change was ranked as one of the top threats to sustainable land management, only second to pollution. What will we do about this?

Thus, despite the fact that we like to blame the government for several shortcomings, we as ‘proud Barbadians’ have to do our part to help ourselves. What we do on the land will determine as a nation, how much water we conserve, how much oxygen we get, whose houses and businesses will be affected first by flooding from sea level rise, what our food and energy bills will be and overall how resilient we are to weather systems, earthquake and volcanic activity which the region is very prone to. Note that we are just weeks shy of the hurricane season and Tropical Storm Ana has graced the Atlantic with her presence. If we are not usually prepared for the regular season, how will we defend ourselves against an off-season trough like that which devastated our neighbouring isles in 2013?

Most importantly, education and change in attitudes of our citizens, especially young people, is highly recommended to create a culture of a better appreciation for land as a precious resource and further, to adapt to climate change impacts. We need to start with us.

As our National Environment Month approaches in June, I want persons to not only think about what actions they will take for climate change but to actually do positive actions so we can all survive.

What do you think about land management in your country?