The Caribbean speaks out on the climate crisis

Participants in the Heart for Amazon event form the shape of a heart in front of White Hall in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on September 28, 2019. Photo courtesy Jonathan Barcant, used with permission.

With stories about the travesty of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas, the Amazon forest fires, and the hope of young climate crisis activists like Greta Thunberg and children from Small Island Developing States trying to force action from world leaders, it is no surprise that Caribbean youth are also making their voices heard, piggybacking on the global awareness raised by the September 2019 climate strikes and hosting their own events in solidarity.

LEED-certified architect Mandilee Newton and her husband Tim at the #ClimateStrikeTT demonstration in Port of Spain, Trinidad, September 25, 2019. Photo by Rapso Imaging, used with permission.


One 15-year-old student, Tristan Morgan, was so inspired that he registered and organised #ClimateStrikeTT, which took place on September 25, 2019, in Trinidad's capital, Port of Spain. Morgan actually didn't expect the response to be as enthusiastic as it was; when he realised that 200+ people had registered, he contacted Jonathan Barcant, managing director of IAMovement, a nongovernmental organisation that advocates for environmental causes and has had experience hosting climate marches in the past. IAMovement was happy to lend its support, offer advice, take the lead on communications and help Morgan sort out logistics like legal permissions and police clearance.

Caribbean climate crisis activists outside White Hall, the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, on September 25, 2019, in the capital, Port of Spain. Photo courtesy Jonathan Barcant, used with permission.


For its part, IAMovement has been promoting the #AmazonChallenge, an initiative undertaken in conjunction with like-minded global organisations such as Young Water Solutions, a nonprofit that empowers youth to contribute to universal water sanitation, hygiene and resources management.

The concept is that with seven billion people on the planet, if we all just planted one tree it would make a huge difference in offsetting the adverse effects of global heating. The #AmazonChallenge entails planting a tree that you can nurture (or paying to have one planted on your behalf), posting a photo or video of it and nominating three friends to do the same. The Indiegogo donation page notes:

We are not only helping to undo some of the damages in the Amazon and to capture carbon through our most efficient carbon capture machines right now (trees:), but we are also sending a collective message to those in power that […] our planet, forests, and animals do mean a lot to us, and we believe their PROTECTION and REGENERATION should be a global priority.

According to Barcant, the project has thus far had plantings in Trinidad and Tobago, Ireland, Belgium, the United Kingdom, South Africa and Sri Lanka. “What's really cool about the #AmazonChallenge”, he says, “is that for every one tree you plant, you can have the impact of four trees being planted because it's you plus the three other people you nominate.”

Screenshot of a promotional video for the #AmazonChallenge, in which Caribbean climate activists have been taking part. Video courtesy IAMovement.

Heart for Amazon

The whole thrust is being supported by Global Shapers, the youth arm of the World Economic Forum — one of the many partners for the Heart For Amazon event, which took place on September 28, 2019, in The Hollows of the Queen's Park Savannah, the city of Port of Spain's main green space.

A range of environmentally conscious local organisations came together and pooled their efforts to stage the event, including IAMovement, Hello Green, One Yoga, New Fire Festival and Grundlos Kollektiv. Participants received trees to plant in the #AmazonChallenge and nominated friends to do the same; all Global Shapers representatives also each chose three “Shapers” in other Caribbean hubs to follow suit, sparking the involvement of other islands and scaling up the tree planting initiative.

But for Caribbean climate change activists, it doesn't stop there. Small Island Developing States are among the most vulnerable when it comes to the disastrous effects of climate change, from rising sea levels and coral bleaching to increasingly intense storms.

Prime Minister of Barbados, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley, with the Foreign Minister of Togo, His Excellency Robert Dussey, at the United Nations, September 23, 2019. Photo by PMO Barbados, Public Domain Mark 1.0.

In fact, Barbados’ prime minister, Mia Mottley, in addressing the United Nations Climate Event Summit in New York on September 23, 2019, told world leaders to expect a mass migration of refugees if the climate crisis is not solved:

In other words, two degrees needs to be taken off the table once and for all. The global community must accept that it is within our power to halt and reverse climate change. […]

We refuse to be relegated to the footnotes of history and to be collateral damage for the greed of others, for we have contributed less than one percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Other regional leaders joined the clarion call.

Young people lead the march around the Queen's Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on September 28, 2019. Photo by Dylan Quesnel, used with permission.

Via WhatsApp, Kathryn Christopher, curator of the Global Shapers Port of Spain hub, explained to Global Voices:

All activism must be intersectional […] I echo the sentiments expressed by PM Mottley at the UN Climate Action Summit this past September, that the Caribbean is at the forefront of the effects of climate change. The climate crisis is even more immediate and urgent for us and other SIDS.

Initiatives like the Amazon Challenge and Saturday’s Heart for Amazon event both educate and find a way to address this urgency, as well as empower individuals to act.

Preparing for COP 25

The next major step forward comes in December 2019 with an event called 6D, pegged as “the largest-ever global chain of climate actions in history”. IAMovement and Young Water Solutions are currently in discussions with 6D organisers and hopes to pair its #AmazonChallenge with the 6D movement to have greater impact and confront the climate emergency head-on. December 6 is when world leaders will meet to discuss the planet's environmental future during the COP 25, the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties, which takes place in Santiago, Chile, from December 2-13, 2019.

The idea around 6D is to communicate that the power is in all of our hands and everyone can make a difference: Individuals can plant trees, practice composting or do beach clean-ups; companies can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by investing in sustainable technologies; NGOs and communities can undertake reforestation projects, install renewable energies, and recycle; and governments can set and achieve the goals needed to ensure that the temperature will not pass the 1.5°C in relation to preindustrial levels.

According to Kathryn Christopher:

One of the greatest hindrances to change is the thought that your one act is insignificant, and because of this, to decide to take no action at all.


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