Earth Day 2022 postscript: Two priorities for Jamaica and the Planet

Earth Day 2022 just slipped past me, while my back was turned – which is most unfortunate. However, I did contribute to a really nice pictorial article produced by Global Voices’ Caribbean team (headed by my ever-encouraging editor, Janine, in Trinidad). We shared our personal memories and thoughts reflected in the photographs we chose. You can take a look here.

Earth Day is not only a time for reflection; it was originally intended back in 1970 as a day of action. Having taken a quick look at what was happening on and around the day (apart from webinars) it struck me that two key issues stood out for Jamaica: Solid waste management and deforestation. This reminded me of our “Voices for Climate Change” tour around the island. On visiting rural communities, when we asked what were the major concerns there we were told “people cutting down trees” and “the garbage.” These issues were included in the lyrics of many of the songs and raps that our team of singers and DJs composed during the project.

A thoughtful moment: (l-r) Dilip Ragoo, formerly of Bustamante High School in Clarendon; singer Aaron Silk; and Panos Caribbean’s Indi McLymont Lafayette looking serious at a Voices for Climate Change workshop. (My photo)

The Voices for Climate Change team, headed by the dynamic roots reggae singer Aaron Silk and including Pam Hall and some other great artists, performed at a special Earth Day event on Climate Change Adaptation in Salt River, Clarendon staged by the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (CCAM) in collaboration with the Jamaican National Commission for UNESCO.

Voices for Climate Change Education Artists Anthony Cruz and Donn Gass Plant Trees with students at Bustamante High School, back in 2019. Credit: ProCut Multimedia

I can hear cynical people say: Oh, there’s a lot more to it than that. Cleaning up a beach or planting a tree is so simplistic. It won’t solve anything. In itself, perhaps, these activities don’t seem like much of a contribution towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. But they do “add up”; and besides (and most importantly) they raise awareness among all those who participate about the state of our island (and by extension, the Planet) and point to things that they can do to make a change.

These actions may be local and small-scale, but people are doing something and they gain awareness of the problems, besides actually feeling good about what they have done – and hopefully, wanting to do more. In other words, they are all environmental activists, and that cannot be bad. Some light bulbs might go off in people’s heads; and they will likely inspire others to go out there and help Mother Earth.

She needs help.

So, Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) did a Beach Clean-Up in the true JET tradition, at the Palisadoes Go-Kart Track on Kingston Harbour. If you want to see some serious solid waste pollution, that location is a good place to start. Our (relatively new) Minister with responsibility for Climate Change and the Environment, Senator Matthew Samuda, was there to lend support. Over 600 pounds of garbage were collected by a small group of 35 volunteers, from N.C.B. Foundation, University of the West Indies, and several Kingston high schools.

Volunteers from NCB Foundation with their haul on April 23, 2022. (Photo: Jamaica Environment Trust)

N.C.B. Foundation CEO Nadeen Matthews Blair said, “The Foundation and our volunteers were eager to go out and participate in the Earth Day Clean-up. This is the first time we were able to contribute, as a group, in well over two years. We take great pride in building our communities, especially the coastal environments impacted by improper waste disposal. See you in September for the International edition.” She was referring to the annual International Coastal Cleanup Day – which you can get a flavour of here – which is a major event on our island and always has a great turnout from corporate teams.

Dr. Theresa Rodriguez Moodie (center), CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust, talking to Senator Matthew Samuda and Lauren Creary, JET’s Programme Officer at the clean-up. (Photo: JET)

JET’s Programme Director Ms. Lauren Creary said: “Through conversations with volunteers at the cleanup it was clear the public education campaigns, such as Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica, are needed to tackle poor solid waste management in Jamaica.” I could not agree more (see my comments above). Public education is critical in so many areas relating to the environment in Jamaica. I wonder if Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica is in for a revival (I am sure many of us can still sing that jingle!)

The Earth Day Beach Cleanup was made possible through the support of the Ocean Conservancy.

Action people… Volunteers at the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary Earth Day cleanup in Barbados. (Photo: Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary on Facebook)

Over on the other side of the Caribbean, there was another clean up. Clean Up Barbados and the Future Centre Trust supported a session at the Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary – the last remaining mangrove wetland and migratory bird habitat on Barbados. There is a petition out for the Barbadian Government to declare the swamp as an OS2 Conservation Area, ensuring that it is protected for generations to come. At the moment, it is threatened by human activities and “development.”

The Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary is the only place in Barbados where the Snowy Egret breeds. (Photo: Graeme Hall Nature Sanctuary on Facebook)

Now…trees. A U.S. Embassy team visited the New Providence Primary School in Standpipe, Kingston (a community just opposite the Embassy building) and did a lot of beautifying. Together they planted flowers and other blossoming shrubs, to beautify a section of the school’s entrance. The Embassy’s Public Affairs Officer, Bobby Adelson led the initiative. Echoing U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken’s sentiments, Mr. Adelson said, “The U.S. Government is determined to help preserve the planet’s natural beauty and will do all it can to encourage future generations to do the same, one project at a time.”

Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Jamaica Bobby Adelson helps two students of New Providence Primary School do some planting for Earth Day. Remember to water those pots, boys! (Photo: U.S. Embassy Jamaica)

One project at a time is the way to do it. These community actions are valuable.

It’s a really good time of the year right now to plant trees and plants in your garden and elsewhere, with plenty of rain. However, dear politicians, community activists, students… It is not enough to just put them in the ground. Before you start, it’s always preferable to plant native palms and other trees, which will do a much better job at surviving and providing the best food and shelter for birds and other creatures. Don’t forget flowering plants and trees also – especially those that our birds, bees, and butterflies are attracted to. After you have planted, don’t forget to water and nurture that young tree or plant. It will need a good foundation to get going. Some organic fertiliser once in a while, perhaps? Create that flourishing Jamaican ecosystem! Contact the Forestry Department for advice on what to plant, when, and where – and if you’re serious about planting, download their app!

Forestry Department Jamaica has an app in support of the National Tree Planting Initiative.

Last, but not least by any means… Earth Day was Day One of BirdsCaribbean’s Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, which continues until May 22. The festival continues online “From the Nest” with a daily endemic bird – not just a picture, but all kinds of online activities and information; plus a weekly webinar, a story/poetry competition, and more… In the graphic below you will see just a few of our endlessly fascinating and wonderful Caribbean birds, that live here and nowhere else. There are 171 of these unique birds (including 29 in Jamaica alone) and Bird #84 is Jamaica’s magnificent Ring-Tailed Pigeon. More about this special bird in another post soon!

Featured, left to right: Cuban Black Hawk, St Lucia Warbler, Broad-billed Tody, Green Mango, Jamaican Owl, and Bahama Swallow.

Earth Day, in all its components, goes deeper and further than ever before, with climate change impacts continually changing our perspectives and weaving in and out of our consciousness. The essence of the day is engaging with Mother Earth. Here’s a useful Action Toolkit, for individuals and organisations.

Let’s get back to strengthening our relationship with our Mother, and promise to duo better. As this year’s slogan has it, “Invest in our Planet.” And let every day be Earth Day.

Investments we can make for Earth Day and beyond.

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