Cause For Concern: Environmental Issues Affecting Caribbean Islands

This World Environment Day The Caribbean Millennial is bringing you insight on the environmental issues that Khadija Stewart, a young Trinbagonian woman determined to change the way we interact with the environment with her brand and business EcoVybz, thinks deserve our attention!

Meet Khadija!

A 26 yr old national of Trinidad and Tobago absolutely in love with the culture of her country. She’s known to many people know me as a passionate environmentalist working tirelessly to be the change she wants to see in this world but she also loves traveling.

To truly be an environmentalist she says she “must marry the physical environment, the social environment and the built environment” and travel across the globe gives her perspective on these elements.

K: Looking at the relationship different people have with their environment and the way it has shaped their society and culture is mesmerising to me. This is why its part of my life’s mission is to continuously travel the world and immerse myself in different cultures so that I can gain understanding and work towards being the best environmentalist I can be. I decided a long time ago that I was going to leave my mark on this world by moulding my life around three important words, awareness, appreciation and change. Ps, I also love the beach, nothing calms my spirit and resets my energy like a day at the beach! 

Q: When did you become conscious of environmental issues?

K: As a child growing up I was always glued to the National Geographic Channel and the History Channel, this led to my understanding of earth systems as well as historic events. I fell in love Geography and History. I always knew and understood the importance of the environment but I believe it was either something inherent based on my upbringing or because of my love of NGC but I never fully made the connection. It was only until I was introduced to Environmental Science in 6th Form that a literal spark went off and I found my passion.

It came so natural to me and I understood all the concepts so easily it was like I already knew everything but was finally able to put the pieces of the puzzle together. The knowledge and love in my subconscious mind was now known by myself and I was able to recognise my calling. I only started acknowledging the fact that I cared or as you said was conscious about environmental issues when I realised I already had the answers to questions to a subject I was now being introduced to in Form 6.

This is when I fully recognised the importance of the environment and understood the relationship between society and the environment in a non- primitive form. What I mean by that is that based on documentaries I have seen on the history channel my understanding of said relationship was based on indigenous lifestyles and their interaction with the environment but now I was more aware of modern society and our relationship with the environment to date. I understood that we formerly had a more positive relationship with the environment but as society progressed we neglected that relationship and created a whirlwind of issues detrimental to all.

Q: Where did the inspiration for EcoVybz come from?

K: Ecovybz was honestly created out of frustration. During my undergrad years I was introduced to blogging, I wasn’t sure if I liked it but it allowed me to creatively convey environmental messages. I went on to do my masters and was so sure I was going to get a job in my field and make a difference. This was far from the case. After months of being home I got a job as a digital marketing consultant and learnt so many tricks and trade of social media, graphic design etc. But it wasn’t my passion. It was one day I was sitting doing a course on typography that I said you know I have so many tools at my disposal and I am full of environmental knowledge why don’t I start my personal blog to educate people on environmental issues.

It became an avenue for me to express my authentic self and use simple yet striking language and imagery to educate people.  It took me forever to come up with a name, I wanted something catchy and fun instead of the usual boring environmental names that screams extremist or tree hugger. Ecovybz came to me and I decided that it is something everyone can relate to and remember even if you have no clue what it means. It started off as a blog but now I see it as a lifestyle or a movement focused on educating people in a fun creative manner.

Q: How do you educate people on environmental issues?

K: Educating people on Environmental Issues is so challenging because of all the extremists that exist out there anytime something like climate change comes up for example it’s an instant turn off. Moreover, a lot of the language used is technical in nature e.g. sustainable development. That gets thrown around so freely but if you ask the average man on the street what it means he is lost.

Therefore, to educate people I try my best to break down concepts to relatable scenarios, use simple language, explain the problem and provide the solution. I also try to not just shove knowledge down people’s throat but to get them to think on their own and formulate their own ideas/theories. For this I use my blog and my Instagram page. I have started a YouTube channel but I am not sure of my space on that platform as yet and how to utilise it to the best of my abilities.

Q: What’s one of the biggest environmental issues we should be focusing on in the Caribbean?

K: This is difficult to answer because everything is connected, no one system or issue operates on its own without impacting other factors. With that being said however, I think the biggest environmental issue facing the Caribbean is Climate Change. I say climate change only because of the current changes we are experiencing with the dry and rainy seasons and the domino effect that is having.

Our dry seasons are becoming significantly drier and over the years many Caribbean countries have faced drought like conditions leading to water stress and agricultural strain. We have also experienced much wetter rainy seasons with more intense systems (hurricanes, tropical storms etc) and severe flash flooding events. As a region we do not possess the systems, infrastructure, finances, management and knowledge to properly deal with the impacts of natural disasters. The impacts from such events could range from water shortages, food insecurity, diseases, loss of biodiversity, loss of electricity and loss of life.

The impacts of climate change in the region has severe environmental, societal and economic outcomes and this all starts with the fluctuations we are currently experiencing with our rainy and dry season. Climate change also leads to sea level rise which leads to salt water intrusion threatening our freshwater supply. I can go on and on about climate change and the different impacts it is currently having and will continue to have on the region but I wouldn’t. Like I said previously climate change has a domino effect of impacts so I would classify it as the biggest threat to the region.  

“As a region we do not possess the systems, infrastructure, finances, management and knowledge to properly deal with the impacts of natural disasters.”

Q: Which environmental issues are you most passionate about?

K: Off the top of my head I would say water. I got into so much trouble as a child for bathing in the rain, having water fights in school or refusing to exit a body of water. I have always loved how water feels, its stress relieving properties and the pure joy it brings to me. I never really saw it as an environmental issue as a child.  

If I think about it a little longer I would say food and water. But I only said food because I love to eat and well who doesn’t love to eat, without water you can’t have food. Passionate however is a very strong word and I am most passionate about water. All my life growing up in the Caribbean I have always had running water and enjoyed water, whether it be a pool, a river, the beach you name it. I understood that occasionally we had water shortages but at the end of the day it will always come.

This may sound naive but it was only until I was doing my masters that I realised that there are people in this world who literally have no access to safe, clean water. There was nowhere for them to go to get clean water and nowhere for water to come from as rainfall is scarce. I also discovered that many people’s water supply was restricted due to large corporations using the resource for their production. That seemed so bizarre to me. My eyes were opened like never before to a crisis I did not understand at first but now I am fully aware. Clean water goes far beyond bathing and cleaning, unsanitary conditions means diseases and other factors and it honestly breaks my heart to know that I have been living a spoilt privileged life and my spent a huge portion of my life taking it for granted. Ultimately we need water to survive so since there are threats to water supply then there are threats to livelihoods.

Q: So how do we go about making effective changes concerning food and water issues?

K: This is a loaded question with a heavy answer. Simply put there are a number of factors that result in water stress conditions or even water scarcity:

  • climate
  • poor management
  • poor infrastructure
  • pollution
  • unsustainable resource use

What we as regular folks can do is firstly understand this then we can change our behaviours and come up with solutions to deal with these issues. Looking at the unsustainable usage of water this is something that we can work on in our daily lives.

We should also strive to keep our water bodies clean in many areas of the world to date there are large rivers unable to be used for human consumption because of how polluted they are. Absolutely no one benefits from that. I can go into detail about each of the factors but like I said earlier it is important to understand where your water comes from what threatens your supply and how you can aid with its management from either your own personal end or at a policy level.

We can start by turning of the tap when brushing your teeth or when soaping/shampooing, washing full loads of clothing, using a watering can to wet the plants or a bucket to wash the car. It sounds like nothing but we practise using the resource more efficiently instead of wasting then best believe a difference is being made.

You can also research organisations that are working towards providing people with clean safe water and make a donation or contribution to the cause. For some people literally every single drop counts and if you can help someone in need then, why not?

“…research organisations that are working towards providing people with clean safe water and make a donation or contribution to the cause.”

Special thanks to Khadija for taking the time to go through these issues currently affecting our Caribbean Islands. As Small Island Developing States (SIDS), our countries face major threats to the life-sustaining ecosystems that we depend on daily for basic needs and most importantly for tourism.

Be sure to follow along over on her Instagram: @ecovybz to learn how you can start making effective changes to reduce your impact on the environment. Check out her blog EcoVybz, her Facebook and YouTube Channel: EcoVybz!