Playing Smart…

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 08, 2021

“Why boasteth thyself/Oh, evil men/ Playing smart/ And not being clever?/ I said, you’re working iniquity/ To achieve vanity (if a-so a so)/ But the goodness of Jah, Jah/I-dureth for-I-ever.”

—Bob Marley, “Small Axe”

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeBarbados, the tiny Caribbean island with just about 287,371 souls “has been punching well above its weight of late,” says the Black Agenda Report (November 3). In fact, many people within the global community have taken note of Mia Mottley’s (Barbados Prime Minister) speech, “Get Up, Stand Up,” that she delivered to the United Nation’s General Assembly in New York last September, and now the world is buzzing (certainly those people in the Black and Brown world) over her “impassioned address,” to COP26, the UN Climate Conference held in Glasgow, Scotland.

Mottley reminded the world that Barbados, like much of the Caribbean and other small states, is facing an existentialist threat “from climate change as rising sea levels, the destruction of underwater ecologies, and increasingly powerful hurricanes have the potential to wipe the archipelago off the map.”

Mottley’s speech was eloquent, gut-wrenching and informed. She made us proud of our Caribbeanness. Anyone who has stood in Port of Spain on a rainy day to shelter as the South Quay pavement or Broadway flooded knows what Mottley is talking about. They also know we are in trouble when they see the Styrofoam cups dancing along the Dry River any time the rains fall and the river comes down. They realize that soon our capital city will be underwater.

While I accept everything that Mottley asserted and accepted her proposition that “the pandemic has taught us that national solutions to global problems do not work,” there is much that we can do nationally to deal with our environmental problems. If we forget this truism we have lost the battle before we start.

Part of the small things we can do to improve our environment is to prevent our big shots from building their homes in the mountains, and cutting away our forests that creates tremendous flooding in places such as Tacarigua, Tunapuna, and Arouca, which never experienced such flooding when I grew up there. Even worse, we must stop building houses on our prime agricultural lands. It makes us all the poorer.

In 1995, on the 350th anniversary of the village of Tacarigua, I authored Tacarigua: A Village in Trinidad. I wrote: “The distrikers [villagers] of Tacarigua and the citizens of the entire island need to adopt a new ideology of biological awareness that stresses the sanctity of biological processes and the interaction that underlies the natural systems around and within us.

“If the Amerindians, in all their technological backwardness—was it really backwardness?—understood the need to live in harmony with their environment, can’t we in the twentieth century, understand the precious/precarious balance between our biological, our ecological, and our political systems?

“Steps must be taken to cut off the sewage and the fertilizers that run into the Tacarigua River; the stilt must be removed so that the water can flow again; nothing should be done to disrupt the water patterns; we should develop a program that prevents the contamination of the aquifers, and we should begin to check the manner in which we deforest our region.”

In 2013, the PP government proposed to build a sporting complex on the Orange Grove Savannah (the Eddie Hart Grounds) in which they intended to place international cricket and football fields with a track made of rubber and a concrete stand that could hold a thousand people. They also proposed to construct a swimming pool on one of the playing fields and a car park for 300 cars, a pavilion and a road to connect the two grounds.

The only problem with this plan was that Orange Grove Savannah is a natural aquifer. It contains 12 water pumps that supply water for most of east Trinidad. Luckily the people of the Tacarigua area organized themselves, took the Government to court and prevented it from committing a major environmental disaster. We won.

Last year I wrote “Black Betrayal” in which I reported the words of Aaron St. John who spoke about the feces and stench that surrounded South East Port of Spain Secondary School and its deleterious effects on the students there (Express, March 8, 2020). A colleague accused me of sacrificing my “professional principles on the altar of dubious political ambitions” (Express, March 13, 2020).

In T&T we use pretty words but do little to achieve the necessary outcomes; or, as Bob Marley says, sometimes we are guilty of playing smart but not being clever. In analyzing the contrast between our words and actions on climate change, Vedavid Manick notes that it “is okay to speak about climate change, but it’s more important to act upon it.” He asks: “Are we doing enough to catalyze a change towards environmental stability both at a Government level and among the average citizens?” (Express, November 5).

Mottley’s speech alerts us to the discrepancy between pretty speeches and the absence of action. But there was also a deep moral component to her speech which led the editor of Black Agenda Report to say: “When pretty speeches are a substitute for direct action, while justice is invoked without plans for reparation, we can be damned sure those existential, ecological threats will be realized in the Caribbean, and everywhere Black people live.”

National solutions to global problems may be feasible. However, it is also true that if we, in T&T, treat our environment as a disposable and dispensable object then we will be setting up our own environmental destruction.

This, too, is part of our climate and environmental challenge. We should take it seriously.

5 thoughts on “Playing Smart…”

  1. Selwyn makes a good point. PM Mia Mottley has been making a name for herself on the global scene. In her address to the COP 26 Conference in Scotland, she made several important points. One of the most important ones is that “The pandemic has taught us that national solutions to global problems do not work.” When we see the extent of our flooding problems and the problem of coastal erosion, we tend to look at it as a local problem and in doing so we tend to put blame on the local authorities for causing the problem. PM Mottley has emphasized it’s a global problem and to solve it we must look for global solutions. In this case, the problem is global warming. Mottley implored global leaders to “try harder” to keep global temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius, as anything above this would mean “a death sentence” for vulnerable island countries, including Barbados.” She claimed “If we don’t, we will allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction.” It is important to take the advice of PM Mottley and train our eyes to the real causes of our problems of coastal erosion and unusually intense flooding – global warming. And the way to mitigate that global warming is to “keep global temperatures at 1.5 degrees”. To do this the countries of the world have to lower their greenhouse gas emissions, and when we look at the data, it is the large industrialized countries that are most guilty of adding to our carbon emissions. China, the US, Russia, the European Union and India, and other developed countries. Of course T&T, on a per capita basis is one of the higher carbon emission countries, but if we look at the amount of carbon that T&T is adding to the atmosphere, it is negligible in comparison to the large industrialized countries. Measuring on a per capita basis gives a false and skewed picture of the countries that are actually adding to the carbon emissions globally. So PM Mottley admonished that countries have to act, not just talk about it. Greta Thunberg says the same thing in a more picturesque way, she calls the conference a “blah blah blah” talk shop. Mottley is right, world leaders have to act, the need is urgent. If they don’t act, it may be too late to act at all.
    However we have to take into account that the world does not act quickly on the basis on what needs to be done. There are forces of inertia, we may call them, that propel the world on a direction that can be changed only slowly over time. It’s like a huge ship that can only change its course slowly, even the most urgent attempts result in gradual change. Realistically, it’s the same thing with global warming. And what are these forces of inertia? They are the economies of the world. World economies are built on the use of coal, oil and gas as fuel for their industrial output. That is the history of economic industrialization, now they have to transition to green economies. That is a huge step, but obviously it has to be done. And what is that idea that drives the economy as it is today? Mottley says, “If we don’t [keep the global temperature at 1.5 degrees], we will allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction.” When we come down to it, greed and selfishness, according to Mottley, are the psychological elements that are driving us to destruction. That period of time when the ship is changing its course is that period of transition. We have to minimize that period of transition and ensure that it is truly a transitional period for countries. During that time, we have to move from the gas and oil based economies to green economies. That is what is being called for, it was reported that, “financial institutions accounting for around 40% of the world’s capital committed to assuming a “fair share” of the effort to wean the world off fossil fuels.” But it was said that the largest number of lobbyists at COP26 (503) were oil and gas lobbyists. So politics has to move from its control by oil and gas lobbyists to the democratic need of the people for a green world. As Mottley says, “We must act in the interests of all our people” PM Rowley has made an important point with regard to economies like T&T that are gas and oil based. Their economies are dependent on fossil fuel, but they have to use that transition period to move away from that type of economy to one that is a green economy. One example is the transitioning from internal combustion car engines to electric cars. Another has to be the change to solar energy. All these efforts will create opportunities and require new skills. That’s the new world that we are entering. Mottley and Rowley are not saying two opposed things; they are laying down the requirements for the survival of all people in the future. Mottley is saying that we need to act now to ensure that we control the global temperature; Rowley is saying that we have to make use of that transition period to change our economies to a green economy. Both things are necessary. We, the people of the world and particularly in Trinidad and Tobago, an oil and gas based economy, have to listen to both.

  2. “Mottley had something to say for herself and her country on dealing with climate change. With solar panels sprouting from buildings everywhere in Barbados, her government developed their National Energy Policy 2019-2030 to achieve “100 per cent renewable energy”. It now has a solar photovoltaic industry and Barbados is today the top user of electric vehicles per capita in the Caribbean.

    The IDB also considers Barbados “a best practice model” for the Caribbean in dealing with coastal erosion by “building head­lands, break­waters, retaining walls, and walkways and revetments to stabilise its shoreline and control beach erosion” – Ralph Maraj.

    The UNC had several coastline projects that was ongoing, including bringing large rocks and using tires to stop the erosion at the shore of peace, Mosquito Creek. Minister Rambachan at the time had projects going on in the East coast using innovative ideas to stop soil erosion.

    The flooding throughout Trinidad will continue because the rivers need desilting at entrance to the sea. I was shocked when I passed by the upper stages of the Godineaux River and notice the River had become nothing more than a drain with a massive tree growing in the middle of it. Downstream the river was covered with weeds obviously enjoying the fertilizers it was receiving.

    The UNC was known as the “box drain” government whilst the PNM is known as the “to hell with the drains guavament”. Today a small amount of rain and massive flooding.

    Long term there has to be a comprehension study on water courses in low lying areas and a study on coastal erosion, then like Mia a 5 year plan to begin the process of fixing a problem long ignored. This can all be undertaken under a general climate change project, funded by the EU and the UN development plan. The plan should not take more than 3 months because of extensive digital imaging readily available.

    The UNC during their tenure in office had some schools benefitted from solar power, more schools would have benefitted had the PNM not stolen the last election. Instead Rowley a man of the 1950s cannot conceptualize a modern society. Mia is way ahead in planning and execution of those plans. The Bajan model can easily be adopted by the government drainage department. Cepep workers can find new life working to stop the encroaching sea levels. How hard is it to identify major rivers and ensure they are dredge and cleared before the rainy season.

    Our first Prime Minister Dr. Williams ensured that funds was made available for rural areas, drains were cleared, the Godineaux dredged in the 60s. When the UNC proposed giving regional governments $10 million to do work in their areas, they made it clear how the money will be released and expected visual yield. An angry Keith Rowley baulked and dismissed any thought towards it saying the money will be stolen. (He should know).

    This is how Dr Rowley prefers to spend your money “ Today’s revelation that the NGC wasted another $200 million, under the leadership of its President, Mark Loquan, on another failed project, merely rubs salt into the wound of citizens who are the ultimate shareholders of the NGC.” Guardian.
    “To say that the loss of $400 million is nothing in an attempt to stay in the LNG business, but that $80 million is too much to spend on police vehicles to protect the population or that $100 million is too much to provide scholarships to our brightest students confuses the public.” Guardian.

    The blights managing the treasury did not learn when $13 billion was wasted on three Petrotrin projects. One project had a staggering 33 cost over runs. Yes they continue to waste the national patrimony whilst demanding you pay property tax. Money that will go down in the PNM sinkhole at the Center of Balisier House.

  3. “We have embarked upon ambitious plans to reduce emissions and build climate resilience, but we will need help. These measures include the following:

    We are in the process of establishing the largest utility-scale solar renewable energy project in the Caribbean with a capacity of 112 megawatts, accounting for 10% of our power needs, and we plan to increase this complement to 30% by 2030;” Rowley

    “The largest solar generation plus energy storage project ever to be built in the Caribbean has been announced by the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis, the state-owned St. Kitts Electric Company (SKELEC) and Leclanché SA an energy storage company

    The 35.6 MW solar energy plant and 44.2 MWh battery storage facility will be built on government provided land in the Basseterre Valley, adjacent to the City of Basseterre and the current SKELEC PowerStation on the island of St. Kitts”

    Jamaica on solar power “ “.

    Puerto Rico “
    The Caribbean’s largest solar energy park, capable of generating enough electricity to meet the annual consumption of 12,000 families, was inaugurated Monday in the southern Puerto Rican municipality of Guayama”.

    Caribbean renewable energy program

    It is good to see Caribbean nations moving forward on solar energy.

  4. The following is part of AL-Rawi’s UN address.
    If someone out there knows what the f*** he is talking about, let the rest of us know!

    Al-Rawi expressed this opinion when he addressed during the virtual 39th session of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group’s review of human rights in TT, on Tuesday.

    “We are very pleased to have operationalised our covid environment by a suite of services which are targeted at the individual-level perspective and the societal-relief perspective.”

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