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.

Advertisements

Is Paris our last hope for survival?

Traffic was terrible last Friday while the remnants of Tropical Storm Grace were passing through Barbados. As I was sitting for hours in the rain, I had more than enough time to think about how Dominica was decimated by a mere storm and also how the island’s development was set back 20 years, according to their Prime Minister, the Honourable Roosevelt Skerritt, in his address to the nation.

This is of course not the first time a storm or an even weaker system has destroyed parts of our islands. Storms and low pressure systems have been thrashing our behinds for a while now. I think back to Tropical Storm Tomas in 2010. It snuck up on Barbados in late October and wreaked a bit of havoc. It felled trees, destroyed houses, caused flooding and made roads impassable.

Furthermore, just 3 years later, an out-of-season trough affected a now recovering St. Lucia and St. Vincent on Christmas Eve. It shows that as soon as you get back on your feet, you can be knocked down again when you least expect it. I had only just left a workshop in St. Lucia a few days before the event. While on a field trip, I spoke to a farmer who said he had just recovered from Tomas and he showed me his bountiful harvest. When I contacted him after the trough, he said his field was once again wiped out and he needed to restart for the second time. This was his livelihood and I doubt it will be the last time disaster strikes.

While inching forward every 20 minutes or so I also thought about Loss and Damage and if it was on the table for the region. Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are indeed most vulnerable to climate change effects. They are also susceptible to sea level rise especially since most of the inhabitants live in low-lying coastal areas. The administrative offices in Barbados are located just a few metres from the sea and our electricity comes mainly from a coastal plant. Let us not forget the droughts that we have had and in the words of Bob Marley, ‘You ain’t gonna miss your water until your well runs dry’. Lastly, the insanely unusually hot weeks we have been having. These effects not only affect the economy but our health and well-being.

I am elated though about the unity and swift action this region has displayed so far with aid swarming into Dominica daily. Countries are individually raising money, collecting food stuff and sending rescue personnel to help our neighbour out.

As a young climate change advocate, I have to applaud the work of youth organisations such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) which help to raise the awareness of the region’s young citizens about climate change impacts. Additionally, the Action/2015 global campaign which aims to mobilise regular citizens worldwide to address climate change, inequalities and poverty.

Conversely, commitments from larger and richer G8 countries to reduce their emissions and provide funds for adaptation and mitigation projects are necessary for our survival. It seems that climate change negotiations so far are going as slowly as this traffic. Will there be an agreement that satisfies the needs of the Caribbean SIDS? We can only hope.

In the meantime, I would suggest that community vulnerability studies be done for each country to map the most vulnerable areas to different disasters. In this way we can be better prepared for disasters like Erika.

 

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. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

Slide3
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. 

IMG_1834
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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Slide6
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!

Slide7
Photo Credit: Jamilla Sealy, 2016