Much Law, No Order

We slavishly practice the letter of the law and studiously ignore its spirit, especially if financial blandishments are on offer. As a friend observed on Facebook recently, “I love how TVJ follows an ad for Black Stallion “Bedroom Tonic” with a public service announcement about how the program is rated PG. At 8:50 on a Sunday morning #dobetter”.

At Daggers Drawn: The Broadcasting Commission and Jamaican Popular Culture (updated)

Below is the unedited version of my Gleaner column of Aug. 10, 2016. It seems ever more relevant today now that news has broken that five senior members in Jamaica’s Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) have been fingered in a campaign funds misappropriation scandal. At the same time the police are belatedly continuing an  investigation into the alleged involvement of a senior Jamaican politician from the ruling party in a murder plot years after evidence was provided of wrongdoing.  Meanwhile the Police continues to harrass and arrest citizens for using profane language. The concept of obscenity takes on new meanings in such a context. See my column below:

It’s high time the law against using ‘indecent language’ in public is taken off the books. In a society which acknowledges widespread abuse of power by the Police, the state must remove any unnecessary pretext  lawmen might have for arresting citizens, especially when the so-called crime is absolutely no threat to public order. People should have the right to curse when they are upset, and if Police are breaking the law by cursing at them for no rhyme or reason, yes, citizens should have the right to curse back without being manhandled on the pretext of being arrested.

Had this inane law not been on the books Kay-Ann Lamont and her child would be alive today, the latter all of 4 years old. Her two older children would not have to be passed around from relative to relative like hot potatoes as was reported in the news a few days ago. According to a  newspaper account:

“The summer holiday is a bittersweet period for sisters Gillian Senior, 13, and nine year-old Sabreka Salmon, daughters of Kay-Ann Lamont…For the first time since last Christmas, the sisters played together two Thursdays ago, having become accustomed to a choppy routine after being separated to live with relatives following their mother’s death.”

Lamont’s crime? A policeman overheard her using an expletive after her wallet was stolen on Orange Street where she was shopping for back to school items for her children. In the tussle that followed his decision to arrest her he ended up shooting the 8-months pregnant woman in her head, killing both mother and child instantly. If that isn’t obscene, i’d like to know what is.

Meanwhile criminal charges have been pressed against the Gordon Town woman who greeted profanity from a policeman with profanity but “NO CHARGE FI DI POLICE WHEY DID A BATTA UP DI WOMAN FI NOTHING”. This despite the fact that the policeman involved was caught on video dragging the woman by her hair and generally manhandling her with the kind of gusto and  abandon one has become used to seeing from American police, prompting a #Blacklivesmatter movement in that country.

As an online commenter once said “the culture we have developed seems to be one where there is much law yet no order”. Yet we refuse to reconfigure the legal system inherited from our colonizers, keeping alive archaic laws that have long been consigned to oblivion in the countries where they were first devised. We slavishly practice the letter of the law and studiously ignore its spirit, especially if financial blandishments are on offer. As a friend observed on Facebook recently, “I love how TVJ follows an ad for Black Stallion “Bedroom Tonic” with a public service announcement about how the program is rated PG. At 8:50 on a Sunday morning  #dobetter”.

This is the same spirit in which the government pays lip service to the Paris Agreement it signed some years ago to stick to a Nationally Determined Contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. According to Wikipedia, Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) is a term used under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that all countries that signed the UNFCCC were asked to publish in the lead up to the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris, France in December 2015. Jamaica did so in November 2015.

Along comes an investor with deep pockets, promising thousands of jobs, and the government is willing to abandon the Paris Agreement and sign on to a 1000MW coal-fired plant to be built by a Chinese company, Jiuquan Iron and Steel (JISCO). As Diana McCaulay, head of Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), often a lone voice in the wilderness, points out:

“A modern coal-fired plant emits 762 kilograms of CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated, if there is no CO2 capture. This plant alone would emit roughly 6.7 million tons of CO2 per year, just over half of our 2025 target. Meeting our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement would become highly unlikely.”

A multitude of sins creep in under cover of blandishments of ‘development’ and ‘progress’. For the government ‘job creation’ translates to votes which must constantly be mustered no matter the cost. What could be more indecent than that? In an eloquent article published by Commonwealth Writers called ‘Giving up on the earth’ McCaulay details the price we are paying globally for reckless abuse of the environment in the name of progress:

“As I write, the world faces 14 straight months of global record breaking warm temperatures, described on many websites in the dispassionate language of science. Disease vectors like mosquitoes are spreading outside their previous latitudes and so are the diseases they carry. Wildfires rage earlier and longer. Land cracks in droughts and is washed away in floods. The largest living structure in the world, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia had its most serious bleaching event ever – roughly 22% of this wonder of the world is dead. All over the world, the people most vulnerable to extreme climate events are displaced, impoverished and die. You think there is a refugee crisis now? Wait until large areas of the globe are uninhabitable. And yet real reductions in greenhouse gases have not been achieved, despite decades of international meetings, agreements and stated good intentions.”

Its high time we paid attention to the spirit of the law and agreements we sign on to, instead of obeying them in letter only. And take that #$%^@ law against indecent language off the books! There is much to curse about.

 

The Kula Ring: Thyssen Bornemisza Art’s first convening of The Current debuts in Kingston, Jamaica

Detailed programme and information about TBA21’s first Current Convening in Kingston, Jamaica and profile of Ute Meta Bauer.

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The week of March 13, 2016 is a momentous one for visual art and oceanographic research  in Kingston, Jamaica. March 16-17 will see the unfolding of the first convening of TBA21’s The Current, an ambitious cross-disciplinary venture marrying art and science in the service of ocean conservation.

The Current project and its ambit are described succinctly on TBA21’s website:

The ocean and its coastal communities provides a singular arena in which sociopolitical, economic, and environmental factors converge with the spirit of exploration. The Current seeks to redefine the culture of exploration, exchange of ideas and discovery in the 21st century.
Organized in three-year cycles, The Current is a multiphase fellowship program that gives artists, curators, scientists, marine biologists, anthropologists, and other cultural producers a platform to cultivate interdisciplinary thought and transfer of knowledge. Embracing the notion of the journey as a goal in itself, participants in The Current will join an annual expedition on the research vessel Dardanella. Avoiding the structures of conventional conferences, think tanks, and residencies, The Current reimagines knowledge production and the methods through which we present, understand, and exchange ideas.

The first voyage of this mission, headed by  distinguished curator, art educator and thinker Ute Meta Bauer (see my profile of Ute later in this post), having taken place already, Bauer and her team are in Kingston to share their experiences and ‘soundings’ with local audiences on March 16 and 17. After that, activities shift to Port Antonio where Francesca von Habsburg, patron of TBA21, is inaugurating her fish sanctuary at Alligator Head, the Thyssen estate where she spent many summers swimming and exploring the reefs. Her concern at experiencing the deterioration of the coast and reef in Portland between her happy childhood days and the present, instigated her to launch the far-reaching Current programme of research. It seems only appropriate therefore that the first Current convening should take place in Jamaica. The site of the convening is _Space Jamaica, Rachael Barrett’s equally ambitious Museum of Contemporary Art (10a West Kings House Road), a work in progress, but which people have a chance to acquaint themselves with this week. For a full programme of activities click here; for a schedule of the two days in Kingston see below:

TBA21 The Current Convening: The Kula Ring, a Gifting Economy at _space, 10A West Kings House Road, Kingston, Jamaica: March 16 – 17, 2016

Announcement of the East Portland Fish Sanctuary and Inauguration of the Alligator Head Foundation Headquarters and the East Portland Sanctuary Information Center in Turtle Cove, Portland: March 18 – 20, 2016

The inaugural Convening of the TBA21 The Current introduces and discusses what has been discovered on an expedition to the Pacific archipelagos with the research vessel Dardanella. Titled The Kula Ring, a Gifting Economy, the Convening in Kingston follows a ten-day journey to the remote littoral of Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea. The Convening engages various formats of translocal exchange in the spirit of the kula including visual and sonic presentations, newly developed performances, film screenings (of existing films as well as new footage), structured conversations with invited experts, educational workshops, and “Thematic Tables” between presentations that allow smaller groups of shared interests to convene in a more intimate discussion setting. The experience of forming a collective body and exchanging knowledge is key not only for the expedition itself but also for these gatherings. The Current’s organizers, expedition leader, and fellows will be joined by a diverse group of environmentalists, oceanographers, artists, scholars, and activists from Jamaica and abroad. The Convening at _space will connect what has been discovered and experienced in the Southern Pacific to issues that are shared with Jamaica and other Caribbean nations.

The first day of the Convening will focus on fieldtrips, workshops, performative events, and presentations of materials, introducing creative practices as knowledge production in its own right. On the second day, formats will shift towards lectures, performances, screenings, roundtables and “Thematic Tables” that invite the audience to become active participants. Narrator Amina Blackwood Meeks, custodian of the oral tradition and performer, will introduce participants and speakers as a protagonist / persona in this Convening, and there will be interventions by the Brooklyn Jumbies. The evening will close with a live exchange of artistic and sonic material that will take place in the format of a concert/performance.

03/16 Wednesday

2:00 PM Public Workshop: Flying Fish Kites meet Robotics TBA21
The Current Fellow Tue Greenfort, Artist, Denmark; Marvin G. Hall, Educator, TED Fellow and Founder of Halls of Learning, Jamaica/USA; Julia Moritz, Education Curator, Switzerland

This workshop seeks to experiment with the practical and visionary idea to research local fish species and make them fly – by way of the kite, bridging global and local traditions and technologies of kite building. It will be a collaborative process that offers a playful introduction to Engineering and Computer Science. In a following conversation, we will discuss how creative and playful learning can be a tool to share knowledge and inculcate environmental awareness.

4:00 PM Recycling and Revitalizing for Ocean Conservation
Presentation: Ocean Plastic
Cyrill Gutsch
, Founder of Parley for the Oceans, USA

Cyrill Gutsch is presenting the Parley A.I.R Strategy – a formula that can end ocean plastic pollution. Plastic is a design failure. Once produced, it never dies but keeps poisoning our planet. We can only end its crusade by inventing new materials. In the meantime we save marine wildlife by cleaning up coastal regions, dragging plastic debris out of the sea and cutting into the production of new, virgin plastic by making recycling material a mega trend and working on closed-loop systems.

5:00 PM Presentation and Conversations: Agents of Change, Part 1

Clouds, Orta Water and Antarctica Lucy Orta, Professor and UAL Chair of Art in the Environment, University of the Arts London and artist, France/UK

This presentation introduces three ongoing projects by Studio Orta – Clouds, Orta Water and Antartica – that intersect issues of water paucity and pollution, climate change and its effects on migration.

Interfaces

Oskar Mestavhat, physician, artist, environmentalist, Brazil

The artwork Interfaces marks a transitory moment in Oskar Metsavaht’s life. Conceived during an artistic residency at Inhotim, it allowed him for the very first time to combine his different perspectives – or interfaces – of being a physician, designer and artist, and to live up to their full potential. Interfaces I – man//art//nature thus carries this new awareness. In his talk, he proposes a reflection about this “imaginary layer” aiming at defying the boundaries between the human body and nature.

Conversation
Lucy Orta
and Oskar Mestavhat

This conversation will introduce creative engagement addressing urgent questions that touch on the changing condition of our environment.

7:00 PM Opening Ceremony

Francesca von Habsburg, TBA21, Chairperson and Founder, Jamaica/Austria; Rachael Barrett, _space, Founding Chair, Jamaica

Talking Materials with TBA21 The Current Fellows Laura Anderson Barbata, artist, Mexico/USA; Armin Linke, filmmaker, artist, and professor at HfG Karlsruhe, Germany and TBA21 The Current Expedition Leader Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Germany/Singapore

The Kula Ring – Collective Body and Knowledge Exchange Lorena Garcia Castro and Lena Rossbach, graduate students, HfG Karlsruhe, Germany

A presentation of 60 photographs that are part of a collective visual database accumulated by the TBA21 The Current Expedition Leader and Fellows during their ten-day expedition to Milne Bay Province in Papua New Guinea from September 30 – October 9, 2015.

Kula Exchanges
TBA21 The Current Fellow Newell Harry, artist, Australia

Through an examination of the tradition of the kula and its modes of exchange and circulation, Harry’s installation of selected materials that he collected during his visits to Pacific Islands questions the way materials and objects accrue economic and social value and significance in the Pacific, and against the wider sphere of global trade.

From the (Kula) Ring to the Belt (& Road)
TBA21 The Current Fellow Jegan Vincent de Paul, architect and artist, NTU PhD candidate, Canada/Singapore

The presented books are part of a collection of materials and ongoing research that Jegan Vincent de Paul has undertaken to examine (un)official perspectives on Chinese State-led infrastructure construction across the Indian Ocean littoral, attempting to reveal the political fallouts of the routes and its general social, cultural and economic effects in a society.

8:00 PM Performance: What-Lives-Beneath
TBA21 The Current Fellow Laura Anderson Barbata, artist, Mexico/USA; The Brooklyn Jumbies, Trinidad and Tobago/Barbados/USA; Chris Walker, choreographer, Jamaica/USA; Dancers from the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica; Ewan Simpson & NDTC Music, Jamaica; Amina Blackwood Meeks, custodian of the oral tradition and performer, Jamaica

What-Lives-Beneath is an original cross-disciplinary performance, combining dance, spoken word, stilt dancing, costuming and music. Based on first-hand experiences, research and ancient wisdom, it charts the physical and emotional relationship maintained with the ocean and the urgent need for collective transformation. The Moving Mas works created by Laura Anderson Barbata in collaboration with Chris Walker incorporate traditional handcrafts from Papua New Guinea collected during the expedition and other recycled materials.

9:00 PM Conversation: Agents of Change, Part II
TBA21 The Current Fellow Tue Greenfort, artist, Denmark; Cyrill Gutsch, Founder of Parley for the Oceans, USA; Francesca von Habsburg, TBA21, Chairperson and founder, Jamaica/Austria; Justine Henzell, producer and director, daughter of Perry Henzell, Jamaica;  Oskar Mestavhat, physician, artist, environmentalist, Brazil;  Lucy Orta, Professor and UAL Chair of Art in the Environment, University of the Arts London and artist, France/UK; Moderated by Markus Reymann, Director, TBA21 The Current, Germany/USA; This conversation discusses artistic and creative practices in support of environmental awareness.

10:00 PM Film Screening: The Harder They Come
Director Perry Henzell, 1972, 120 min, Jamaica

“Possibly the most influential of Jamaican films and one of the most important films from the Caribbean,” the film starring reggae singer Jimmy Cliff is famous for its reggae soundtrack that is said to have “brought reggae to the world.”

Q & A: Justine Henzell, producer and director, daughter of Perry Henzell, Jamaica

 

03/17 Thursday

Narrator Amina Blackwood Meeks, custodian of the oral tradition and performer, will guide throughout the day.

10:00 AM Lecture and Film Screening: The Current, an Energy field, an Ocean Phenomenon, and a Sense of Now, Markus Reymann, Director of TBA21 Academy and TBA21 The Current, Germany/USA

The Current is the exploratory soul of TBA21. Imagined and implemented by Francesca von Habsburg and Markus Reymann, it is a ground-breaking new program that takes artists and other cultural producers, architects, scientists, philosophers, and environmentalists into the South Pacific. Based on the research vessel Dardanella, The Current is the offspring of TBA21 Academy. In his talk, Markus Reymann addresses the results of the first two expeditions and proposes an outlook on how the art world and the cultural sector in alliance with science can creatively engage with today’s most pressing issues of climate change to conceive imaginative solutions.

11:00 AM Screening and Lecture Performance: Anthropocene Observatory Project
and Deep Time
TBA21 The Current Fellow Armin Linke, filmmaker, artist, and professor at HfG Karlsruhe, Germany

Excerpts from the Anthropocene Observatory Project, a collaboration by Armin Linke with John Palmesino and Ann-Sofi Rönnskog (Territorial Agency) and Anselm Franke (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin). The Anthropocene Observatory depicts the work of international agencies, organizations and scientific researchers in a series of short films, interviews and documentary materials.

Unpublished footage of a research project titled Deep Time by Armin Linke
discusses the thesis of the Anthropocene as the epoch defined by the actions of humans.

12:00 PM Presentations

The Ocean—Flywheel of Global Change
Patrick Heimbach
, oceanographer, Visiting Associate Professor, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Associate Professor, the University of Texas, Austin, USA

The animated visuals that were collected through various satellites underscores the global connectedness of the coupled climate system at large, and the far-reaching effect that regional changes can have. In the same way that polar ice sheet melt influences tropical communities living near the coast, changes to the tropical atmosphere-ocean circulation will impact polar climate. As we convene to witness changes to the local environment, we will do so against the backdrop of global changes.

Ring of Fire: Ecocide and Environmental Self-determination in West Papua
Nabil Ahmed
, researcher and lecturer, Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design (The Cass), London Metropolitan University, UK

Investigating the intersection of contemporary eco-politics, art and architecture at multiple scales and in the making of new legal and political forums, this presentation explores an ongoing geopolitical investigation of ecocide and environmental self-determination in West Papua, a militarized territory on the northeaster eastern edge on the Ring of Fire.

1:30 PM Thematic Tables

The audience is invited to join the presenters in smaller, intimate groups for discussions. Topics include “Our ocean’s now – Our ocean’s future?”, “Agents of change – responsible philanthropy”, “Vernacular knowledge and material archives”, “Collective body and transcultural exchange”, “What is this – the epoch of the Anthropocene?” and “Undoing education / learning by doing”.

3:00 PM Conversation: The Kula Ring, a Gifting Economy
Annie Paul
, writer and critic, Head of Publication section, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies, University of the West Indies, Jamaica; TBA21 The Current Expedition Leader Ute Meta Bauer, Founding Director, NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Germany/Singapore; TBA21 The Current Fellow Laura Anderson Barbata, artist, Mexico/USA. Moderated by Filipa Ramos, art writer and Editor-in-Chief, art-agenda, UK

This conversation will discuss if a collective experience of a very particular locale is translatable to another locale, and how can one create a field of resonance that serves as a feedback loop? What kind of knowledge is produced under such particular circumstances like an expedition and how can this knowledge be made productive and be exchanged within a wider group? What is required to establish a community of shared interests across cultures and local specificities?

4:00 PM From Ska to Rocksteady
A sonic presentation by Mika Vainio, experimental electronic musician, Finland/Norway

4:30 PM Sound Clash Part I: ‘Slackness’ Versus ‘Culture’ in the Dancehall
Carolyn Cooper, Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies, University of the West Indies, Jamaica

Jamaican dancehall culture celebrates the dance as a mode of theatrical self-disclosure in which the body speaks eloquently of its capacity to endure and transcend material deprivation.  Furthermore, the politics of the dancehall is decidedly gendered:  it is the body of the woman that is invested with absolute authority as men pay homage to the female principle.

5:00 PM Conversation: Spatializing Reggae – Sonic Exchanges

Carolyn Cooper, Cat Coore, Annie Paul, Mutabaruka and Mika Vainio, Moderated by Ute Meta Bauer

11:00 PM Sonic Exchanges Part II
Performances by Cat Coore and Mutabaruka, Kingston, Jamaica; Mika Vainio, experimental electronic musician, Finland/Norway

1:00 AM From Townhall to Dancehall: Visit to Music sites in Kingston

And here is my profile of Ute Meta Bauer, whom I have known since 2000 and last met in person in 2002 at Documenta11’s platform in St Lucia. Over the years we have kept in touch; it is a great pleasure to collaborate with her 14 years later on this convening. Please come out in your numbers, you won’t be disappointed.

UTE META BAUER: The Force behind the Scenes

UTE META BAUER is not a household name and likely never will be. Although the stage is a passion for her you will never see her on a red carpet in the glare of a zillion flashlights or hotfooting it from an army of fans; no paparazzi will ever hunt her through the tunnels of Paris or anywhere else.

Why should we be interested in her then you ask? Simple. Alongside the celebrity culture and money-driven economies we occupy in this neoliberal epoch, there are social economies at work, trying to imagine and realize more creative and equitable systems of co-existence. Can art have social functions beyond being storehouses of monetized value tailor-made for buying and selling? What role can/should artists play in the design of more humane, less number-driven societies? How can we institute the ability to explore, to experiment and to improvise, to work and think in unconventional ways? How can we engineer an automatically innovative, self-reinventing social system? Such questions have animated the work of Ute Meta Bauer over the arc of her career inciting her to operate at the frontiers of research into new thinking about art, art education and performance.

Thus subjects like cultural, social and media theory, gender, cultural and critical postcolonial studies, curatorial studies and methods of presentation, cultural policy, the study of transcultural and, popular-cultural issues have all been grist for Ute’s mill. Her unconventional but productive approach to knowledge and knowledge-building has attracted the attention of institutions at the forefront of education in art and technology and her curatorial practice has encompassed a wide range from contemporary art, film, video to sound installations.

After trying to shake things up at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, as a Professor of Theory and Practice of Contemporary Art (1996-2006) Ute went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) where she was director of the Visual Arts Program for several years and Founding Director of the Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT). In both places Bauer tried to revolutionize the curricula, arguing for more interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinary research, and occasionally even an anti-disciplinary programme of studies.

“Why not regard students as competent partners capable of cooperating and being actively involved in the design of their learning environment?” she asks. In her own student days in Hamburg, Germany, Ute, along with other students, had formed a group devoted to extracting and moulding the kind of educational structures they wanted and needed from the programmes of study they were offered.

“We developed projects — exhibitions, events, performances — and made videos. We set our own context. We saw professors as resources, more as coaches, not people we waited on for instruction. When I became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna in 1996, I was stunned by the antiquated notion of the Master Schools, and that the “professor as master” model was still in place. I was then the only female professor, since Erika Billeter, a predecessor, had left. The last female professor before her led the textiles class during World War II. To enter into a context is to understand its mechanisms and the inherent power relations it operates under. Changing structures requires changing politics, which has been critical to my approach.”

Inevitably Ute’s determination to change the politics of art and the structures within which it operates, has brought her into the ambit of art professionals such as the highly acclaimed Okwui Enwezor, another curator with similar ambitions. In 2002 she became part of Enwezor’s Documenta11 curatorial team, widely acknowledged to be the most paradigm-shifting of any Documenta in the weighty exhibition’s 60 year old history. Curating the 3rd Berlin Biennale for contemporary art in 2004 and several other ground-breaking exhibitions, since 2013 Bauer has been the Founding Director of the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, a national research centre of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Her mandate is to merge various streams of programmes into a cross-disciplinary platform. Just a little after two years into the operation they are well on their way.

 

For the Portland section of the programme see below:

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The programme also includes exciting performances and musical events:

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The Marlon James Effect, The Current and _Space Jamaica

A run down of exciting new developments in Jamaica’s literary and art worlds.

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Marlon James at Calabash Literary Festival, June 2014

As a new year hurtles towards us, the worlds of writing and visual art in Jamaica are poised to come into their own once again what with stars like Marlon James and Ebony G. Patterson blazing their way to global attention in 2015. You might say a strong current is buoying Jamaica right now and those equipped to swim with it are bound to soar. Can aquatic creatures soar? are we mashing metaphors here? No doubt…but methinks the situation warrants it.

James’s Booker win with his novel A Brief History of Seven Killings has set off a maelstrom of praise and adulation but also concern from some Caribbean literary critics who maintain the work is needlessly violent. How to represent the internecine violence we live with in a seemly manner is a moot subject that will fuel many a literary conference to come; in the meantime Marlon James has adroitly dismantled the thatch ceiling that seems to veil the work of Caribbean writers from international visibility.

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Kei Miller on right, Ebony Patterson and Leasho Johnson on left

Kei Miller, James’s counterpart in the literary world, known more for his Forward Prize-winning poetry than his prose has just signed a six-figure deal with Knopf for a fictional work. Indeed his manuscript Augustown was the subject of a bidding war between publishing giants Penguin, Random House and Knopf, all offering six-figure deals. Miller’s agent chose Knopf, whose editor also works with Toni Morrison.

This is what I call the Marlon James effect. Doors have been flung open! as Kevin Jones remarked on Facebook. The success of Brief History has made publishers sit up and take notice of a culturally rich region they had somehow managed to overlook all these years.

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To give some perspective–not even the much lauded Booker winner Marlon James himself was offered six figures by his publisher, River Head–but that was before the stir that his ambitious novel subsequently created. The bidding on his next novel will likely hit seven figures. Move over 7-Star General LA Lewis!

It must be added that Kei Miller’s Augustown was an excellent manuscript, and any really good writing coming out of the Caribbean in the next year or two is likely to arouse the interest of all major publishers. “Roland need to send out something,” remarked Marlon James colloquially, referring to Roland Watson-Grant, a third Jamaican writer whose brilliant novels have yet to get the attention they deserve.

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_Space Jamaica and The Current

Meanwhile over in visual art the thatch ceiling is about to be blown away by a very ambitious project called _Space Jamaica, the brainchild of Sotheby-trained Rachael Barrett, who has recently returned to Jamaica with visions of starting an international museum of contemporary art in Kingston and other points in the region.

Located at premises owned by the Henzell family and run as a cultural space for many years _Space Jamaica will hold two shows a year, one in December timed to take advantage of traffic to Art Basel Miami and the other in June to coincide with Kingston on the Edge, a small but exciting series of activities curated by young Jamaican ‘creatives’ and led by Enola Williams. June 2016 will see _Space Jamaica launching its inaugural exhibition with a solo show of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, curated by Rachael Barrett. Titled I FEEL LIKE a CITIZEN, Barrett “will take a new approach to Basquiat’s oeuvre, examining his life, work and cultural legacy from the perspective of his Caribbean heritage.”

In early December Barrett held a preview of what’s in store for the museum with an ambitious programme of activities, some of which fell through, due to funding and other delays. The highlight was a lunch for diplomats and others held at the Old Railway Station in downtown Kingston. The station is in disuse since the trains stopped running more than a decade ago.

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Artist Laura Facey at _Space Jamaica lunch, Railway Station, Kingston

This was followed by the welcome announcement on December 16 by mega-collector Francesca von Habsburg, founder of ThyssenBornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) that TBA21 would be giving  _Space Jamaica a significant US dollar contribution to be matched, she hoped, by local contributions.

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Francesca von Habsburg announcing collaboration with _Space Jamaica at Red Bones, Kingston, Dec. 16, 2015

In addition TBA21’s ground-breaking (or perhaps ocean-breaking would be a better term) The Current International Research Programme will hold its first ever ‘Convening’ (an inter-disciplinary conference) at _Space Jamaica from March 16-20, 2016. The Current which was launched at COP 21 in Paris instead of Art Basel Miami reflects von Habsburg and her partner Markus Reymann’s shift from pure art (for want of a better expression) to art that engages with environmental problems. According to Reymann the Foundation is interested in knowledge production, not just art production.

Thus The Current, “a three-year exploratory fellowship program taking place in the Pacific, will offer artists, curators, scientists, marine biologists, anthropologists, and other cultural producers a platform to generate interdisciplinary thought and knowledge.”

The curator leading the inaugural voyage is Ute Meta Bauer, founding director of the recently opened Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) in Singapore, who curated the US entry to the Venice Biennale this year; she was also part of the curatorial team of Documenta 11. It will be exciting to see what she comes up with for the Current Convening in March.

As von Habsburg says:

In spite of the unprecedented wealth of scientific information available, global environmental woes are still largely underestimated and poorly communicated. Art can be a powerful weapon if used well, by challenging us to reconsider the way we think, feel, and live instead of just conforming to the rules of the growing art market. After all, the next 10 years are going to be the most important in the next 10,000.

At the dinner in Kingston celebrating the successful unfurling of The Current von Habsburg announced TBA21’s support of _Space Jamaica and explained why she was shifting her attention “to the environment, to climate change, to preserving our oceans”:

They are my priority for a very special reason–mainly because of Jamaica–because i came here as a baby. I learnt to swim here, i learnt to snorkel here, i learnt to dive here. I taught my children–my beautiful daughter Eleonore who just came in today–i taught her to swim here and to snorkel here and to dive here. So I’ve been on these reefs for over 55 years and I’ve seen a colossal difference and I’ve seen what has been happening to the oceans, not just the oceans here, but to oceans all around the world. So for me Portland is a big accent on my attention, and as a result of that I created a foundation called the Alligator Head Foundation, which will be registered shortly, because it takes a while to get things registered in Jamaica as you know. The Foundation is to follow a very important establishment of a fish sanctuary which will be called the East Portland Fish Sanctuary. It is two hectares in size and it’ll be the biggest fish sanctuary in Jamaica. I’m meeting with the Minister tomorrow and I hope to be able to establish the sanctuary by the end of the year, if not the very beginning of next year. And these two things come together, I’ve started to talk about it to many artists and musicians that i know and there’s a whole movement of the creative industries that are backing me up on this programme so much to say about that in the future. But when I got together with Rachel this week to talk about her project _Space that she has here in Kingston–she’s been working with a great architect I’ve known for many years called David Adjaye but in particular this design was done by Vidal Dowding, an architect who I have a lot of time for and a lot of admiration–and I thought this idea of taking over a previous cultural space and reactivating it is something that’s really caught my attention. And the contemporary art scene in Jamaica could do with this incredible boost and I think probably the best way to address it is to actually do that in an independent space. I think the National Gallery of Jamaica is of course very much focused on moving into the contemporary art scene and I understand that, but I thought it was time for Rachael to get some real support so, today I’m announcing a gift to the _Space of US$150,000.

vidalspace
Architect Vidal Dowding explains concept of his plans for _Space Jamaica. Joseph Matalon, l; Rachael Barrett, c; Vidal Dowding, r.

These are exciting developments for the local art scene which has been far too insular for far too long. May local donors match Francesca von Habsburg’s generous injection of resources into local art and science in the way the University of the West Indies has collaborated with TBA21 on founding the Alligator Head Marine Laboratory, seconding Dr. Dane Buddo to oversea (a Freudian slip which i shall leave alone) it. May young Jamaicans finally get a chance to experience the best in art and science without having to leave these shores and may it galvanize the country into leaping forward this coming new year.

The Arctic 30, Environmental Activism and SLAPP: An Interview with Kumi Naidoo Part 2

Part 2 of my interview with Executive Director of Greenpeace International Kumi Naidoo.

IMG_8679

On December 5, the day Nelson Mandela finally died, after a heavily mediated, prolonged deathwatch, I was in Amsterdam with Kumi Naidoo, a close South African friend of many years standing. In between hundreds of requests for his comments from global media I managed to sneak in an interview myself. I had originally planned to interview Kumi about his role as Executive Director of Greenpeace International, about the predicament of the Arctic 30 who were still in captivity in Russia then and other environmental issues but the occasion demanded that we discuss the passing of Mandela and all that it symbolized and meant. This became Part 1 of the interview published on this blog two weeks ago, Nelson Mandela, Servant Leadership and ‘Born-heres’ : An Interview with Kumi Naidoo, Part 1. Here now is Part 2 in which the environment and activism in general are foregrounded. Make sure to watch the video embedded below for a rich elucidation of some of the points raised in passing in this interview.

AP: Let’s now talk about the fact that you are Executive Director of Greenpeace International which is interesting in itself because you would be the first… I don’t want to say, non-white person to be in that kind of position, but person from the South, let’s say, representing completely new populations globally. Has this been a challenge? The fact that Greenpeace was previously a very kind of white European, or European-origin dominated organization, or is that a wrong perception?

KN: No, historically, that’s the reality. It started in Canada and moved to the US and Europe and Australia and so on, but Greenpeace actually has been operating in the global south for a long time with strong leaders emerging from those parts of the world who are into global leadership roles as well, but still that is not the majority of the experience. It’s still an area we are committed to making more progress in. And one of the things that I’ve been working on is strengthening our presence in the poorer parts of the world, parts of the world where if we don’t get it right, such as India, China, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa and so on, with big population sizes, then you know we can get every country in Europe to go to clean green energy, but that’s not going to cut it, because the population sizes in the developing world are mushrooming… Just from a very basic doing the math, it makes sense to invest more there and to strengthen our ability to encourage those countries not to follow the same dirty energy path that today’s rich countries built their economies on.

This is not easy to do, because, justifiably, developing countries who have significant access to the remaining fossil fuels are saying, well, why should we not burn it and build our economies in the same way that the others did. But we are saying, the problem is that then you build your economies, and the economies and the infrastructure are going to collapse, because by just continuing to burn fossil fuels, the impacts of climate change are going to become more and more real. And its not a question of us saying that, oh, some time in the future we are going to see climate impacts, we are seeing climate impacts in many parts of the world. Today, in many parts of Africa, and in many small island states, for example, people don’t need climate scientists to come and tell them that climate change is happening and its real. People’s daily lived experiences; rains coming at the times that they didn’t; records that are being broken in terms of hottest temperatures and coldest temperatures. We are seeing storm strength and ferocity, height and velocity increasing to extents that we barely have another recorded moment for. Changes are happening. We can see in the Arctic where the minimum sea ice level last year broke its lowest level.

AP: Sea ice level?

KN: Where there was the lowest level of sea ice. Sea ice serves as the refrigerator or air conditioner of the planet, it plays a key role in climate regulation, and so in that sense, the stakes are very high. At Greenpeace, the reality on the ground has helped to show why we need to win in places like the Philippines and so on, and so resources are shifting but its slower than I would’ve hoped, and the changes could be even bigger than I would’ve hoped. But change is the art of the possible. We don’t have the luxury of saying, okay folks, we’re going to engage in an internal change process now, so let’s think about how to make the most fundamental transformative changes to be as effective as we can, and bring all energies to bear on that.

We are just running out of time, on climate especially, we have to be able to act internally and make the internal changes that we need to make, and the cultural changes that we need to make to be as fit for purpose as we can, and to be as global as the challenge that we are seeking to address. On the other hand we’ve got to continue to fight on the outside at the same time and continue to win as many big and substantial victories to try to reverse the trajectory we’re on. If we continue the way we are, we’re talking about a four degree world, meaning a four degree rise from pre-industrial levels, and right now, its been agreed that we should keep it below two degrees.

AP: The rise of?

KN: Global temperatures. Average global temperatures. And at this rate, this year we passed the 400 parts per million concentration of carbon in the atmosphere, and the safe level of carbon concentration is 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. Already, we’ve hit 400. We’re in a very precarious state. Our political and business leaders are suffering from cognitive dissonance, where all the facts are there but they’re not prepared to act on it.

AP: You were describing how urgent all these issues are, the environmental issues, and I’m wondering why this isn’t obvious to more people than it seems. For instance, in countries like Jamaica, the environment is almost considered a luxury, and people who protest on its behalf are resented, and often portrayed as being anti-development, Luddites etc, etc. Interestingly its often true that they ARE well off, better off than others in the societies they share.

KN: To take my part here, I was involved in the anti-poverty movement for the better part of my life. I was the founding chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, and I’m still involved in it. What I was seeing, looking at it from a short, medium, and a long-term perspective is that the poor were paying the biggest price for environmental destruction. And when you see an environmental crisis, such as hurricane Katrina in a rich country like the United States, what you see is that those folks who are better off are at least able to jump into their four-by-fours and other vehicles and drive away to safety, when the majority of the poor are left stranded, and the numbers of people that died were devastating to see in New Orleans. But then you take that and you can multiply that story hundreds of times over when we look at different environmental impacts. When I look at the issue of water, for more than ten years now, some of us have been saying that the future wars will not be fought over oil but will be fought about over water, and already you can see that happening. Water is the centre of many conflicts, including, by the way, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

So the point I’m making is that if you look at it objectively, the traditional Western environmental movement, which includes Greenpeace, didn’t make the connection early enough between sustainability and equity, and sustainability and poverty. But to Greenpeace’s credit, by the time I arrived there in 2009, they had embraced the idea of sustainable equity or equitable sustainability, which was essentially bringing the agendas of how do we share the resources on this planet in a more equitable way, that everybody should have certain basic things like access to water, sanitation, basic education, health care, and a certain level of energy. There are 1.6 billion people on this planet who live with complete energy poverty today; they don’t have access to a single light bulb. That’s not a small amount of people.

AP: 1.1 Billion, you said?

KN: 1.6 Billion. That’s a substantial amount of people on this planet. So, for me, the struggle to avert catastrophic climate change, which will wipe out all the developments whether in rich or poor countries, is the critical success factor for consolidating any development initiatives that we do, and so, if you look at Bangladesh, some investments that were done, good development work on the coastal parts of Bangladesh, are already being turned back because of sea level rise and salt water contaminating the soil and making it hard for people to grow food that they were able to grow before.

So essentially, the poor, and poor countries–even though poor countries in the main have not been responsible for that huge amount of carbon emissions–if you look at the history of burning oil, coal and gas, and when it started, the irony is that people in poor countries are paying the first and most brutal impacts of climate change. And its only going to get worse. So in that sense, for me, fighting climate change is fundamentally about fighting poverty, and I don’t see a disconnect there.

AP: But you know what I find interesting, when you thing about environmental groups, action groups globally, Greenpeace comes to mind immediately, but one is hard pressed to think of any others. Why do you think that is? I mean, there are other environmental NGOs, aren’t there, who are doing important work?

KN: Yes, there are many… WWF, the World Wildlife Fund…

AP: But I mean one has to think a bit to recall the others…

KN: Well, I suppose its because Greenpeace does take part in, does have as part of our work, peaceful civil disobedience, and that does get us into trouble with the authorities from time to time and gives us more media visibility.

AP: As you are getting now, with the Arctic 30. What does Russia’s reaction of jailing the Arctic 30 imply for activism broadly speaking, for non violent protests, and the like? It’s set a bad precedent, hasn’t it?

KN: I think that there’s two ways you can look at it. One is, just the fact that it happened people will be so shocked by it and will speak out about it, not just in Russia but across the world, and in fact the opposite result might be achieved, which is that people say we really need to make sure that governments do not use such disproportionate force when there are peaceful protests, or such disproportionate use of the formal prosecuting authority. Of course, the other reaction is that people will get intimidated and so they won’t undertake protests. Both will probably be true, as realities. To be fair to Russia, by the way, it is not the only country where there has been a shrinking of civic space, specifically, and democratic space more generally.

AP: Which are the others? China?

KN: Oh no, even in the United States, if you look at their response to September 11: the Patriot Act, legitimizing and defending torture, engaging in extraordinary rendition, racial and religious profiling, NSA, invasion of privacy; I mean all of these things have a chilling effect on citizen participation generally, and civic activism more specifically. In Canada, we have these lawsuits, which are called SLAPP suits, Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) which are suits brought by companies to intimidate NGOs and campaign groups. A state like Quebec now actually has anti-SLAPP legislation to prevent companies from doing it–that’s how big a problem it is. For example, in Canada now, a company headquartered in Quebec brings a case in Toronto, because they couldn’t have brought it in Quebec because of the anti-SLAPP Legislation. And they are charging us with a seven million dollar defamation claim.

AP: Who? Greenpeace. What is that in relation to?

KN: To the fact that we made statements condemning the activities in the Boreal Forest.

AP: So its not just Russia.

KN: I think it will not be known for some time exactly what the impact will be, but I also think its going to open up some questions about what level of risk is acceptable for activism to take, given what we face in terms of…

AP: Repercussions.

KN: Yes and I don’t know where exactly that will end. As regards Greenpeace, while I’m not saying we will do exactly the same action at the same place in the same way again, neither am I saying that we won’t. But we will obviously learn from this. This has been a big development for us, we will learn from it, and we recognize, as Greenpeace, that we live in a world where people are being killed and tortured and arrested and brutalized for standing up for the environment and social justice everywhere in the world, and we hope that we would be able to help contribute to the push for saying that governments need civil society, society needs active participation and so on, and that hopefully governments will embrace the perspectives of their citizens and allow peaceful protests, including those that have an element of civil disobedience.

AP: Great, thanks so much for this Kumi!

KN: And if you want to connect the two parts of it… Our people in Russia, first were called pirates and now are called hooligans. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and many other people who stood up for freedom and justice, were also, when they were doing so, called all sorts of labels, including labels worse than being called hooligans. Terrorists and so on. But today we revere them as the greatest peoples to have walked on our planet. I have no doubt that the Arctic 30 will be seen as people who did the right thing for the world, and acted out of compassion not out of self-interest. But I hope the world will come to that realization sooner rather than later, because we are running out of time.

The Night of the Iguana: Goat Islands Logistics

A brief look at the University of the West Indies forum on the proposed logistics hub at Goat Islands

I didn’t actually make it to UWI’s one day colloquium on the proposed Goat Islands logistics hub today but tried to keep track through those who were live tweeting it. Below is a selection of tweets from the event, unfortunately all the tweeters seem to be critics of the project. I’m no environmentalist myself but am sympathetic to arguments on behalf of preserving its integrity against rapacious ‘developers’. It’s unfortunate that such projects inevitably portray environmental activists as ‘anti-development’ or ‘anti-economic growth’. In fact what we need to do is look at the last 10 projects that environmentalists protested about and see whether the claims of economic developments, ‘job-creation’ etc actually stand up to scrutiny now that those projects have steamrolled ahead. Can the cruise ship terminal at Falmouth be called a success? For whom? Have the big Spanish hotels been good for the economy? or are local tourist interests hurting and unable to keep up with the cheap rates they offer? Is anyone doing the cost-benefit analyses needed?

What i found amusing was Nature being invoked by the developmentalists when someone said ‘Nature abhors a vacuum’ in arguing the urgency of pursuing the hub. Hopefully Nature’s potential wrath will also be taken into consideration when turning the proposed Iguana sanctuary into a logistics hub, so that it is done with the least amount of damage to the surrounding areas. One can hope, can’t one?

PS: Nov 10. Top journo Dionne Jackson-Miller’s takeaways from the forum under discussion at which she actually chaired a panel, give a fuller picture of the day’s discussons. Check her post out.

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
Beautiful Sat morning – heading to all day UWI session on the logistics hub billed as economy vs environment? Sigh

Damien King @DamienWKing
At UWI forum on the logistics hub. Still don’t know if hub will be a facilitator for the broader economy or an enclave that will burden it.

@DamienWKing when we hear special economic zone it means enclave of no taxes that everyone else will have to pay taxes for #LogisticsHub

@DamienWKing : we nd to know why ja has bn worst performing economy over past 40 yrs so we can know if #LogisticsHub will solve the problems

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
100% all male panel at the head table for opening session. Does UWI not have a Gender Studies Dept??

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
Am musing on what Easton and Conrad Douglas talk about over dinner..

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
World can’t wait for opening of Jamaica’s logistics hub – nature abhors a vacuum. Folks have options – will make other plans

Jherane @Jherane_
Wow. After showing the massive harbours that will be built they show pretty pictures of the local beaches we have…

Jherane @Jherane_
There’s only one female panellists today. Out of 24 panellists, only one female. Wow.

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
Usual story: Since we’re running late, Q&A will be shortened

Jherane @Jherane_
“[Jamaica] has a stable political and social culture” –> hysterical laughter from the audience.

Diana McCaulay @dmccaulay
Logistics hub task force has 12 sub committees – none on the environment

Jherane @Jherane_
Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) lists storm surges, tsunamis, flooding, sea level rise amongst the climate change risk.

Tropical Tendencies: Jamaica and the Arctic 30

Why does environmental activism not register frontally either locally or globally? The politics of climate change

On October 10, 2013, the news agency IPS put out a story sensationally titled The Climate Plague which it described as “a shift to an entirely new climate where the lowest monthly temperatures will be hotter than those in the past 150 years. The shift is already underway due to massive emissions of heat-trapping carbon from burning oil, gas and coal.”

According to the article:

A climate plague affecting every living thing will likely start in 2020 in southern Indonesia, scientists warned Wednesday in the journal Nature. A few years later the plague will have spread throughout the world’s tropical regions.

By mid-century no place on the planet will be unaffected, said the authors of the landmark study.

“We don’t know what the impacts will be. If someone is about to fall off a three-storey building you can’t predict their exact injuries but you know there will be injuries,” said Camilo Mora, an ecologist at University of Hawai‘i in Honolulu and lead author.

Mora goes on to use Jamaica as an example of the kind of change we can expect:

“Within my generation, whatever climate we were used to will be a thing of the past,” he said.

In less than 10 years, a country like Jamaica will look much like it always has but it will not be the same country. Jamaicans and every living thing on the island and in its coastal waters will be experiencing a new, hotter climate – hotter on average than the previous 150 years.

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The story hit the Jamaican public sphere a few days later in the form of a wire  article in the country’s leading newspaper, The Gleaner, but barely attracted any notice. The Hill 60 Bump blog lamented that there seemed little reaction to the alarming news either in Jamaica or other tropical countries also slated to face steeply rising temperatures:

‘Temperatures Rising: Jamaica To Face Extreme Heat in 10 Years’ –  Perhaps this headline was not sensational enough, the text too scientific or there were just too many other news items but for some reason, this article in the Jamaica Gleaner a few days ago seems to have received little attention. We spotted brief discussion on twitter about whether or not this would be good for solar power and a single query about roof insulation but in general, minimal hysteria. The lack of public response seems strange as our immediate thoughts ranged from recollections of the drought of 2009 all the way to Armageddon type blockbuster film scenarios. Online searches returned a myriad of global articles on the matter but little in from the news desks of the tropical countries now considered to be on the climate front line.

It’s an uncomfortable fact that for countries such as Jamaica, India and others in the ‘developing’ world environmental concerns have remained a preoccupation of the elite, those well off enough we think, to worry about changing weather patterns, global warming and the like, in the face of more urgent local problems such as unemployment, hunger and homelessness.

The truth however is otherwise. “People don’t realize that events that seemingly have no connection to activities like drilling the Arctic for oil are actually intimately linked in an interdependent chain of violence and destruction,” says Kumi Naidoo, the outspoken head of Greenpeace International. In a recent interview with US TV journalist Bill Moyers, Naidoo elaborated on this:

Take the genocide in Darfur for instance, in Sudan, the media largely reported it as an ethnic quasi-religious sort of conflict and so on. But, that is your first major resource war brought about by climate impacts because Darfur neighbours Lake Chad. Lake Chad used to be one of the largest inland seas in the world. And the climate scientists warned us decades ago that, as a result of a warming planet, Lake Chad was under risk.

Lake Chad has now shrunk to a size of a pond as the current secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon put it recently. So water scarcity, land scarcity and food scarcity as a result of an absence of water and land was the toxic mix that created conditions for identity manipulation by opportunistic politicians that saw the horrific events in Darfur happen.

In three days it will be a month since 30 Greenpeace activists were intercepted by Russian forces during an act of non-violent civil disobedience in which they mounted a peaceful protest against drilling in the Arctic, a region Naidoo refers to as the “refrigerator and air conditioner of the planet”. According to news reports some of the environmental group’s activists scaled the rig, operated by Russian state energy giant Gazprom. The Greenpeace crew were protesting Russia’s plans to drill for fossil fuels in the fragile ecology of the Arctic. The ship was towed to Russia’s Arctic port of Murmansk and the activists bused to the local headquarters of Russia’s Investigative Committee. Despite the fact that the activists posed no threat to property or to people, Russian authorities have imprisoned the 30 citizens from 18 different countries, pending trials which could see some of them receiving up to 15 years in prison.

Marco Weber, one of the detainees, whose first language is not English, has written a letter describing the conditions of his detention and pleading for help from the ‘global public’.:

“I am now for about 12 days alone in a cell. I don’t have books, newspaper, TV or someone to talk to. At the daily walk I am also isolated. The 4×5 metre “walkyard” is surrounded by concrete walls and covered with iron bars. On top is a roof, which doesn’t allow the sunshine in.

“The only sky I can see is out of my cell window, which is placed in the northern wall of the building. This means no sun at all. Days are long! The highlights are weekly visits of my lawyer and consul. And yesterday I got the first bunch of email from the outside! Yehaa…

“The aggressive and unfair acting of the Russian government and Gazprom shows how important it is, that decisions about Arctic and its future are made by global public. And not by states and companies which are blinded by its resources and short term profits.”

What worries me is that the world seems to be paying as little heed to the dangerous drama playing out in Russia and the Arctic as Jamaicans are to the news of their impending descent into a tropical inferno as soon as 2023. Will anyone pay money to visit this tourist haven then, as they do now, just barely keeping this fragile Caribbean economy afloat?

Can those of us from poorer economies afford to avert our eyes from the environmental catastrophes looming on our doorsteps? Can we afford to withhold our activism leaving it to white people and isolated elites around the globe to save this planet from ourselves? What is most disturbing is the precedent this will set and the chilling effect on any kind of activism anywhere if the Greenpeace 30 receive jail sentences. Are we being told that we can’t hold peaceful protests anymore? Is civil disobedience, that cornerstone of democratic liberalism, no longer recognized or allowed? Is the concept of protest being criminalized?

If there’s any danger of this we ought to organize a day of collective protest globally in tribute to the Arctic 30, because their actions symbolize the freedom to register dissent, to draw attention to public bads, to demand our right not to comply with rapacious processes in the name of ‘development’. Unlike the localized protests we’ve seen spreading all over the world from Egypt to Turkey to the USA to Libya, environmental protests such as the one mounted by Greenpeace against oil drilling in the Arctic call on us to respond as concerned citizens of the globe. This is not just about our neck of the woods, it’s about the world we live in and all the creatures in it. Are we going to sit by and allow rich corporations to loot it into oblivion? Shouldn’t we too be willing to risk our lives to safeguard the planet for our grandchildren?

Diana McCaulay and the Palisadoes Highway

I find myself torn between Diana McCaulay, who heads the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) and Greg Christie, Contractor-General of Jamaica as candidates for my Man of the Year award.

After the devastating rains we’ve had recently and yesterday’s minor earthquake (could this be the minor before the major as @Marxshields asked on Twitter) we should be even more conscious of the environment we live in and how fragile it really is. Yet how many of us are willing to be activists in ensuring that Jamaica’s delicate ecosystem isn’t eviscerated by ambitious ‘development’ plans with little consideration for preserving the country’s coastal integrity?

Diana McCaulay has almost singlehandedly been taking the fight to the authorities on the matter of the proposed transformation of the Palisadoes spit leading to the airport into a mega highway. We all know the kind of disruption and destruction of the environment this invariably entails. And in case we don’t McCaulay explains it eloquently in her post The Destruction of the Palisadoes Spit:

An environmental victory is in some ways an absence – a road not built, a mine averted, a hotel relocated, a golf course avoided. We are used to the presence of a natural resource – while it persists, it’s unremarkable. An environmental victory is always temporary – no matter how solid the case, how overwhelming the public support – at some point in the future, an attempt will be made to reverse it. The plans for the mine will be dusted off, there will be a new investor for the hotel that wasn’t built and a case will be made for the golf course.

Environmental defeats, though, are glaring – forests razed, rivers “trained,” sand dunes destroyed, beaches scraped clean, wetlands laid waste. And despite the promise of the relatively new science of restoration ecology, such defeats are mostly permanent.

On the doorstep to the city of Kingston in September 2010, you can see an environmental defeat. The Palisadoes spit, that jointed arm that holds Kingston Harbour in loose embrace, has been bulldozed by the National Works Agency (NWA), via their Chinese contractors and/or Jamaican sub contractors, led by the Minister of Transport and Works, with the willing and enthusiastic support of the National and Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). At this point, it appears that the entire spit will be denuded of all vegetation, its beaches compacted, sand dunes destroyed, the few struggling strands of mangroves obliterated in order to construct or expand (it’s not entirely clear which) an utterly unnecessary road.

 

Palisadoes removal of vegetation 14 Sep 10-1

 

It seems that NEPA whose role is to safeguard the interests of the country in matters involving large scale developments which impact on the environment is often toothless when it comes to laying down the law. At a public meeting called on Oct 4 with one day’s notice to stakeholders such as JET, McCaulay delivered a small coffin with the assets of Palisadoes inside it and an RIP sign to Peter Knight, head of NEPA. It was an expression of her frustration with what now seems to be a done deal–the razing of the Palisadoes strip to accommodate a major highway to the airport.

There are plans to also create a boardwalk along the new roadway, which would really be a lovely thing. I visited Barbados in 2009 and enjoyed the beautiful wooden boardwalk the government there had put up along one of the most popular coastal strips there. Why couldn’t we have one like that i remember thinking, so i’m not at all averse to the idea. It’s just that the concerns being raised by the environmentalists here seem not to be gaining any traction and if the price tag is too high, in ecological terms, might we not be exposing ourselves to more violent storm surges and coastal erosion in the future?

It takes balls for a single woman to go up against the state in the way Diana McCaulay has which is why she’s my candidate for Man of the Year.  Below is a video she created to document the proposed changes to the spit, a link to a JET statement about the proposed highway and below that is a link of a University of the West Indies study of the Palisadoes spit done in 1994.

STATEMENT FROM THE JAMAICA ENVIRONMENT TRUST 4 Oct 2010

http://www.mona.uwi.edu/geoggeol/mgu/PALISADOES.pdf