Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Does It Mean To Be Green?

Kermit the frog said it best: "It's not easy being green." So much information bombards us about ways to be kind to the environment. Then, so much information whips us telling how our previous efforts actually hurt the environment. It's very confusing.

I make my own little efforts, not relying on some mega-initiatives such as the Kyoto Treaty. If everyone does their part we should get somewhere better, right.

I stopped growing my hair a few years ago. In part, this was because the process of washing it was just too much, as I played a lot of sports. I also saw the way that my wife's hair clogged the shower drain. Every few weeks I would be down on my knees pulling out the clumps of hair from her head washing. I did not demand pay for this, nor mention it, just wondering if she knew how many locks she lost as she lathered. She threatened to leave me if I shaved my head, so I went ahead and did it. I remember seeing several years ago a program about how we wash our hair too much and drain natural oils from our scalps, which we then replace with creams etc. Now, I get away with using less shampoo and I think that my body is better off. Shaving means using some resources, but my razor uses only my energy, not that produced by the electricity company. So, I think I am easing global warming a little.

I did not watch TV much, and now I do it less. I discovered through my work that most of what I wanted to watch was actually available via my computer; that's increasingly so at an amazing rate. So, I interconnect through e-mail and other ways of sending messages electronically. I listen to radio stations online. I watch TV channels online. Being a guy, it cannot all be dull like the Shopping Channel, but enriching like CNN and Bloomberg TV. But, most enriching was the discovery that I could watch all the sports I loved, online, and for FREE. Rise up! When I discovered www.sportytube.net a few weeks ago it was because our way of doing things in the Caribbean are sort of senseless. I could not get to watch live on TV the cricket match that I could hear from my house; I could have watched it on TV if I flew to Trinidad or St. Lucia. But, a friend in England sent me a message as she was watching it live that I could too, from my laptop. What a way to wile away my Sunday afternoon. So, I have watched Gayle and his boys try to shame us again, while my fellows in Bim press their ears to what used to be called a transistor. Isn't progress cool.

Then I found that English Premier League games are shown, often several at a time...United, no, Chelsea, no, Liverpool... Now, that is multitasking. I could even watch ATP tennis. As I heard my wife criticising the ESPN commentators and screaming "Yes! What a shot, Rafa!" as she lolled in front of the electricity gobbler, I could hear the same commentary from my little energy saver as I gazed at the frangipani and sucked in sweet fresh air.

A friend lent me her 'reading device' the other day (a Kindle). It can hold the text from 1500 books in electronic form, in something about the size of a paper back. My wife loves to read and is supposedly trying to be green (her e-mail messages have a coda "Please consider the environment before printing this e-mail"). But, she has a veritable forest growing on her side of the bedroom. I guess by saving some trees from not printing e-mails means that you can net that off against the trees cut down for the books. Hmmm. My wife says she's a minimalist, so when the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said "Less is more" and went on to create the Bauhaus movement in Germany, he had people like her in mind. But, like all real things, it cannot be by design-only; it has to be minimalism-in-totality. I may have to strike a blow for the Brazilian rain forests and the pine forests of Scandinavia and take a hatchet to the book pile.

The way I see it, E. F. Schumacher had it right, "Small is beautiful", though he was focusing on how to link people, land, and community by building local economies. My little Suzuki Swift takes nearly a month to use up all the gasoline I can put into its tank. Now, while I used to love driving around aimlessly in the English or French countryside when on holiday, I loathe driving around aimlessly doing errands. So, I have happily fallen in with some mothers and their kids' programs so that we can car pool. It's really good all round, as they stop trying to be in lecture halls, at the hair dresser, in the food store, at the doctor's, in the gym, all at one time. Now, it's alright to forget to pick up the children every day, because it may need to be done only twice a week. Some Canadians visited last week and I took them back to the airport yesterday. The little five year-old girl paid my car the ultimate compliment: "It's so littly big inside. I thought I would be scrunched up, but I have lots of room." Maybe Suzuki can use that in an ad.

As I toured around Bim with with this child and her father the other day, trying to find companies that manufacture plastics, which he also makes and sells, and for which he develops colours, I saw how all of the little efforts get overtaken. We planned our journey to make his calls so that we did a rough circle. We used fresh air rather than run the AC--the poor people found the island so hot. We had bottles filled with tap water, not bought bottled water. We had carrot sticks for snacks not bags of chips.

As we waited in the car, I looked around the industrial complex at Lower Estates, with its huge chimney pumping out goodness knows what. I saw nasty-looking coloured liquids standing on the ground. Were they toxic? I saw all the building debris piling up on the roadside as new buildings were being constructed. Where will all of that debris go?

We drove to Roebuck Street, near the city centre, and parked outside the offices of another plastics company. I sat with my little guest, with the windows open, to let in the air. She actually, was getting used to the heat and asked that we not use the AC. I watched as people ate their purchases and threw the plastic wrappings on the ground. I saw the many cars with a single passenger, passing each other, and vastly outnumbering the one bus that passed by, with its eight passengers inside. I saw other cars parked, with their engines running to keep the AC working.

It's a complex web of efforts and I guess people will go with the flow. Often, people seem to have given little thought to what energy they might be using and what it takes to produce: let me keep the fridge open and look around for that pot of yogurt...five minutes later, the fridge door is closed. A lot of energy to cool it again. Let me turn on many lights even though I am in just one room: makes the house seem lived in, might tell intruders that there are lots of people around?

Often, people have no idea about the toxic stuff that they introduce into their lives and the lives of others. A painter was at my house last week, and I smelt something sweet and a little intoxicating. I went downstairs and checked his tin; it's main component was xylene, a derivative of benzene, which is used as a solvent in printing, rubber and leather industries. Xylene is a clear, colorless, sweet-smelling liquid that is very flammable. Like other solvents, xylene is also used as an inhalant drug for its intoxicating properties. Benzene is in a group of known carcinogens (causes cancer). Ironically, it is an organic chemical compound. My plastics man and I both stood with our eyes wide open. The painter put a rag across his face. Some help. I told him angrily to stop using the stuff, while he protested that he had been told to use it. "Then, go use some cyanide, too!" I said. I made him put on a big fan that blew the fumes out of the house. He went off in a sulk.

As Kermit said, "It's not easy being green."

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