Dreaming of a Resilient Caribbean | Broto.eco

An abridged conversation between Future Playground – Island Resiliency Team members: Caribbean-based Producer and Cultural Experts Giselle Carr and Christopher Coolness. In this dialogue, Giselle and Christopher reflect on everyday life in the Caribbean, particularly Trinidad and Tobago, and how they would love to see it evolve to incorporate regenerative design and business.

Christopher Collens 

After spending so much time on this Broto project, I’m getting the opportunity to reimagine what things could be like (in Trinidad) and how we can better deal with all the things that are changing. So Giselle, thinking about what life could be like in the Caribbean – if we all came together and just worked on one thing, what is one ideal principle you wish that tomorrow everybody could wake up and start thinking about?

Giselle Carr  

For myself, I certainly dream of a Caribbean where progress does not equate to destruction.

When I really reflect on the kinds of things that we’ve done, especially in Trinidad, a place that is known for being one of the most industrialised islands in the Caribbean. And because we’re an energy economy as well, you know, progress looks a very specific way to us – big buildings, concrete, very specific architecture that, frankly, is somewhat outdated. Right? 

And not necessarily climate appropriate. But hey, it’s progress, right? Because I think we have to weigh very different questions on very different needs, than many of the places that are pioneers in sustainability and regenerative tech, for example, because we are still a young nation, we are still trying to create our footprint in the Caribbean world. And so what I have seen a lot of is, you know, wildlife and lands that are untouched and beautiful are just being destroyed in the name of progress. 

I could give you a really simple example. Like right now, we’re having this conversation and I am sitting in a great co-working space, which I won’t name, but I’m sitting in a really beautiful space that is in a building in a reclaimed land area. And in fact, it was once surrounded by lots of mangroves, very specific types of howler monkeys and birds, and I remember when this particular complex was built. It was extremely contentious because it was this untouched wildlife area. Yet now it’s a bustling area and people are working here, there’s so much commerce taking place that I think most people have forgotten what it was like before. 

And you know, you really have to ask yourself, like, what does it look like when we don’t have to destroy something to create this kind of success, this kind of progress for our nation? Because we do need it. We do need it financially, economically, socially, and commercially. So that’s one of the takeaways to me, maybe you could reflect on what you think about the Caribbean and Trinidad.

Christopher Collens

Yeah, definitely. I mean, even on what you mentioned, I’m remembering a conversation we would have had before about one of our biggest eco tourism sites having some of its land given up for some sort of infrastructure (quarrying and mining in this instance). And nobody can really account as to why that happened.

And as much as we want development, it’s never come at the expense of our resources that we can just get back like that, you know? The resources that we’re using up, like destroying an ecosystem – that doesn’t come back tomorrow, that takes decades just to be able to begin to build back. 

For me, I dream of a Caribbean more able to take more risks. A lot of the frameworks that we’re built around and models that we follow, they’re built for European nations that have a history of exploitation and building frameworks that just don’t make sense for a Caribbean setting. From the clothes we wear, the buildings we live in, like you’d already mentioned, I wish we would take a bit more risks in trying things that will work for us. 

It can be as small as the most practical thing for everybody to wear in the face of hundred plus degree temperatures on the way to work. But much larger than that to reimagining even what work looks like for us; what the buildings that we work in work like, to the times that we work and do they make sense. The systems that we build around our everyday lives need to make sense for a climate like ours. Even our diet – we live in a country where more than 40% of our imports are food. But we also have the richest, best soil in the world for growing almost anything. And we struggle with food security, while taking the risk to develop our agricultural sector, as simple as it might seem, can have incredible impact. 

That is definitely something I want to see more. And it goes into even entrepreneurial drive; a lot of people take the safe route, going into practices that might be exploited. So if you went to manufacturing, and you’re printing and invoicing, all these cotton shirts, and like all these really bad fabrics, that ended up in our landfills and stay there, when there’s no attempt to even try to use sustainable materials. But then that increases with our consumption. And no, there’s no balance of these things. 

We have the potential, we have the ideas and we see it all the time… you see people willing to take risks. But we as a country have to take that risk as a whole. 

Giselle Carr  8:30  

Yeah, I hear you with that. So I mean, if you boil it down, it’s really kind of looking at how we embrace ourselves, our identity, our authenticity, and then crafting our future ourselves, rather than based on these outdated European or other templates that were designed for a different world. 

You know, I think that there’s a certain degree of confidence that’s required for that. It’s a certain degree of truth telling; as in we have to tell the truth to ourselves, we have to look in the mirror and say, “We are Caribbean people, we are resilient. What does that look like for us? What does progress look like for us? What does the next 20 or 30 years look like for us?” 

I think leaders are grappling with these questions internally, whether or not they’re saying externally. When I think about even the way that we are having to reimagine our economy, in the way that currently, our government is looking at sustainable energy and renewable energy and how we’re going to transition. Today, for example, April 4th 2022, we still have essentially a war on the other side of the world. We have all kinds of economic pressures on gas and on oil. You know, so it really kind of makes you realise just how vulnerable our financial structure is and how power shifts and issues in our world, as well as how important it is for us to move beyond those structures, especially given the ecological footprint as well. Essentially, we have to embrace ourselves.

Christopher Collens  10:21  

I’m just thinking when you mention the ecological conditions – I just remembered, a couple of years ago, I spent some time with my family on the Isle of Sheppey, this tiny little island off the British coast. And one of the things that initially the island struggled with was energy and access to the grid, in that they couldn’t just link up all the lines from Britain across. So a big part of the population for quite some time was just using gasoline and diesel. Eventually the British government decided that this is a really good opportunity for an island to become a little bit more resilient. They set up wind farms all across the island. They went from I think 100% gas energy consumption to like maybe 40%, and that was within the course of maybe 10 years. The population is pretty tiny for a European island, but it’s about the size of a Caribbean island. I think maybe they had like 100,000 people there. But the impact was phenomenal. 

I think about how easily that could be a step in the right direction, in taking that risk of developing a future that we can see. That then creates an environment that for years to come, our kids can look back on and be happy with the decisions that we made right now.

I think that’s what I’d do. I’ve been dreaming of a future where the future of all the islands can have kids who can look back and smile on the decisions that their forefathers would have made. Just as when we would have been growing up, we can look at the political figures that were able to give us things like free access to education, free health care; that we can look back and smile on and understand that we are the beneficiaries of that dream that they had.

Giselle Carr  12:22  

Yeah, and I think it goes back even further, when you look at the landscape we’re part of; the kind of beauty that we are blessed with, constantly, in our part of the world – we’re really immersed in nature, and you touched on it earlier, when you talked about soil, and the kinds of things that we can grow, because it’s true. 

Tropical fruits, and vegetables are some of the most coveted and nutrient dense foods in the world, people pay a lot of money to get them all over the world. And yet, we eat a lot of foreign food here. It seems like “local” is making a bit of a comeback, but I think we don’t celebrate our nature enough. 

The other thing that I would love to see us do is to truly think of our everyday lives as not being separate from nature and our beautiful landscapes; our ecosystems are somehow embedded in our day to day lives, rather than something that we have to contain or box ourselves in from. I would love to see us truly embrace our ecosystems. 

A simple example again – I’m here at this office and I have a beautiful view out the window, and I’m looking at this roof across from me, an enormous roof of another building, and I’m just thinking, wow, even if a quarter of that had solar panels… I literally just sit there like, oh, I can “see” the solar panels. 

I mean, there’s a much bigger, really beautiful view of the city and I’m just thinking to myself, wow, you know, what would it look like if we transformed our idea of waste? If we transformed our idea of energy generation, like seeing wind farms, that kind of thing, or even just capturing solar? Or I mean, for myself, I dream of more pedestrian areas and areas where I could generate kinetic energy underfoot, you know, and if there are ways to generate that as well, and balance our infrastructure. But you know, we just need the imagination. 

Christopher Collens  14:41  

I always reflect on my secondary school at Trinity College, and the way they really made attempts to integrate our education into nature. Our school is already in what used to be cocoa fields on plantations and in the middle of incredibly forested areas, we even had after school projects of developing a fish farm so that we can have some sort of income or give back to the community that were around. 

Immediately, we had a very strong agricultural sector – we were learning about flora and fauna around us. And I remember the stark difference from schools where there weren’t programs like that were extremely hard. And understanding our connection was so different, you can feel the difference. 

And I wish that the experience that I had could be like a prototype, and introduce to everyone this connection with their surroundings; developing a more personal relationship with their environments and understanding the impact they can have. And the small changes that they can make. 

I think people having that one personal experience has been blowing up around us recently, specifically with growing your own food even in small amounts.The impact that has is large, you know, having that sense of food security is so large, and it makes me happy knowing that, despite the slow progress, there is still progress in the right direction. It makes dreaming of these futures much more enjoyable, because there is an inkling of hope that these things are imaginable and practical. And they won’t just be pipe dreams, there will be real serious consequences that we can see. And thankfully we will be happy that these things are happening around us.

Giselle Carr  16:38  

Yeah, I feel very much the same. I mean, that’s so cool about school, I really wish I had more of an immersion in nature when I was in high school. I mean now I think my high school is even fully air conditioned, which I understand that there’s some practical need for that. But you know, I’ve been to some high schools and done talks like in the east of Trinidad, and those places are very open, the kids are very accustomed to going out in the bush on their own, or with their families, that kind of thing. And it just makes for a very different and more grounded conversation, I would say they really understand where they live and I think that that is important and needs to be celebrated. 

So just to recap, the more we embrace our identity and dream into these futures, embrace risk, and like you said, do small things even every day, it still adds up. And I think that you know, having a city like Port of Spain being transformed into a city that’s renewable and regenerative – wow, what a dream for our descendants.

Christopher Collens  18:02  

Definitely, I think it’s key – embracing identity, embracing our relationship with the environment, embracing and taking a risk on ourselves and trusting in ourselves in what we already have. So imagine investing in this idea of a collective communal future that represents Trinidad and Tobago as an island, but more so can be transplanted to anywhere else in the Caribbean with their own unique identities.

Giselle Carr  18:34  

Super inspiring. Awesome. Well, thanks, Chris. This was a blast. It was really fun to step into this space with you. 

Christopher Collens  18:45  

Thank you, yeah I think doing so much work on this is personal, and as a project it has really reinvigorated my love for all of these small things that we seem to forget every day that we’re walking around, to being able to talk about it and share. This is very exciting.

Giselle Carr  19:01  

Yeah, same here. Same here. Thanks again.

Christopher Collens  19:13  

Thank you.