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Vaneisa: We’re at brink of environmental and societal self-immolation—the Earth may shake us off

“[…] We are at the brink of self-immolation; do we want to continue blithely polluting the space that sustains us? We’ve seen how a few months of reduced human activity has given the Earth some breathing space.

“[…] Local debates over the fate of existing monuments have exposed the insidious reach of colonisation. We are mistakenly equating the removal of symbols and statues with covering ourselves under a blanket of amnesia…”

In the following guest column, Vaneisa Baksh warns that the Earth might shake off us, if we stay on our current path:

Photo: A dog shakes itself dry.

Picture the Earth as a gigantic, shaggy dog after a bath, vigorously shaking off droplets of water. It’s an image I haven’t been able to shake since it leeched to my brain.

I’m seeing the Earth’s convulsions as a way of ridding itself of maladies—pollution, warfare, excessive consumption and waste—that have been plaguing it through its human fleas. Still, I’d rather think that the planet is not so much rejecting us, as it is rejecting our lifestyles.

It’s how I try to convince myself that there is hope for some kind of renewal. But it seems to me that it requires a complete recalibration of the way we see, think and review our past.

Instinctively, I feel we should focus on the kind of world we want to construct and pour our efforts into that, with all the outlandish idealism we can muster. Yet we will not know what we want until we know what we do not want.

We are at the brink of self-immolation; do we want to continue blithely polluting the space that sustains us

We’ve seen how a few months of reduced human activity has given the Earth some breathing space. What can we keep doing to ease that pressure?

Photo: Grand Chemin, Moruga looks spotless during the period of Covid-19 restrictions on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Can we reconsider the way we consume? Isn’t it worth supporting our industries, especially in the food kingdom?

Compare the freshness of local produce with the chemically preserved varieties that adorn supermarket shelves; that alone provides a compelling argument for home-grown choices.

We’ve been weaned on a culture of importation. We’ve learned to disparage things local, complaining that they are inferior. We can only improve the quality of what we make if we enable our producers so that they can develop both their business acumen and their operating practices.

It’s an opportunity to help build efficiency and sustainability—an investment.

I don’t want to loiter on these issues; they have been persistently discussed. If at this point, when we are confronting the grim consequences of our foolhardy behaviours, we still can’t see that this is not the sole burden of activists, then we might as well accept that the shaggy dog will shake us off.

I am actually trying to make my way towards another aspect of this conversation. The protests that are racing across the globe are fundamentally about injustice, inequity and various forms of bigotry and discrimination.

Photo: A man pays tribute to George Floyd, who was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin on 25 May 2020 in Minneapolis.

Are these conditions we want for our future?

Out of the murder of George Floyd, a movement began and it is spreading—not just in terms of the number of people joining it, but the profound way that it is travelling tells us without a doubt that many more stones will be overturned before this is over. The time has finally come for upheaval, and this generation is ready.

The local debates over the fate of existing monuments have exposed the insidious reach of colonisation. We are mistakenly equating the removal of symbols and statues with covering ourselves under a blanket of amnesia.

The common understanding is that naming a street, a building, a park, a river, a highway; erecting a statue; flying a flag; all of these are tributes to memory and deeds. These acts are manifestations of pride and celebration.

Should Columbus and other villains stand in our name? Is the removal of these symbols an act of historical erasure? Or is it the chance to rename things in our own image and likeness?

If we had ever been paying attention to our history; if we had ever appreciated the value of archives and museums and libraries, we would have already hauled these ignoble reminders into those spaces, and would have documented what they truly represent so we do not forget.

Photo: A Christopher Columbus statue is taken down in St Paul, Minnesota.

I have always been particularly incensed by our cavalier attitude towards knowing our history, and making it accessible for posterity.

There was a time humans did not believe the Earth was round. There was a time when the history told by colonisers was believed to be the whole truth. Their glorious expeditions resulted in ‘discoveries’ and ‘conversions’; and of course, land and loot. And people became ‘savages’ and ‘heathens’, to be civilised or killed and enslaved.

Clearly that gospel is still being spread, if one judges from the nature of some of the discourse. Is that the chalice being passed around in schools and churches? Shouldn’t we examine the content of the history books being used in our schools?

Everything comes back to misinformation and miseducation—the propaganda of power.

I was appalled by the rude audacity of a published letter from Peter S Moralles of Cascade, who advised that: ‘the Warao queen and her followers must have some patience and wait their time to be heard in an acceptable manner’.

The Warao nation was here before the rest of us. What do you mean they must wait their time?

Photo: Ninety-nine year old Paul Navarro, Chief Moruga and surrounding regions and Trinidad and Tobago’s oldest active chief, performs a traditional dance during the First Peoples parade on Pro Queen Street, Arima on 13 October 2017.
(Courtesy Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

As I write, the foolishness of our colonial training jumps up again. POS Mayor Joel Martinez, who received a petition for the Columbus statue’s removal, announced that since this is a national issue, it will be directed to the central government.

Okay, but we are told the petition will be returned to the author for necessary adjustments. What adjustments?

According to the report: “An employee at the City Council said the petition was not addressed or structured properly.”

The shaggy dog should give a hard shake.

Editor’s Note: This column by Vaneisa Baksh was first published in the Trinidad Express and subsequently shared with Wired868.

About Vaneisa Baksh

Vaneisa Baksh
Vaneisa Baksh is a columnist with the Trinidad Express, an editor and a cricket historian. She is currently working on a biography of Sir Frank Worrell.

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