Climate Change and the Rise of the Cyborgs
The story goes that time was when Bajans left BIM for England, and toiling on this isle, they prayed for de years to pass fass fass so they could trade their littles homes in the cold for a piece of The Rock. Those were the days when actual houses in certain parts of London could be bought with bus driver wages. Those, were, in fact, the days. They died a death years ago, and were but legend to the coming generation never to blessed with their acquaintance well before I sailed into London riding the crest of a mighty white wave, crashing upon the then unknown shores of Fulham. I’ll confess openly to having, in the 20 odd years that followed my arrival, never met nor attempting to meet a bus driver. My haunts in London have mainly, by virtue of my point of embarkation, then, yes, silly acquired snobbery, restricted my movements to the types of areas were ‘bus’ is decisively an iffy word, like, ‘bargain’ or ‘broke’ or ‘bread’. But, still, I am a Bajan and as a Bajan I too have too nursed in my heart the Bajan’s assured confidence that Kensington, whilst charming, is no Barbados. For one thing, it has no Kensington Oval. For another, where in all of London is it your universe given right to knock on any old lady’s door and ask for access to her yard to raid her mango tree? I ride reggae buses in Barbados with glee, down the snaking East Coast road with a Banks beer in my hand and a song in my heart.
I have spent the last two months, albeit behind a laptop in St John’s Wood, trawling for my piece of The Rock. And herein lies my sad report: Paradise is lost and I helped to destroy it.
For you see dear reader, up until I started to look for the perfect sea or cliff-side spot on which to vaunt my breathtaking architectural homage to the Mother Land (whilst ostensibly showcasing to awed onlookers how far a girl who started in abject poverty had come), I had no idea I was a complete bloody idiot who had fully failed to grasp that climate change is well, here and happening.
As someone who does more with their lives than scour Pinterest for amazing artworks, or going into fits of ecstasy over amazing African textiles, you would be well within your rights to snort back ‘No shit Sherlock, where have you been?’. And that’s just it. I’ve been in England. I’ve been in M&S buying fruit wrapped in plastic. Taking diesel powered black cabs everywhere. Sipping lattes made from imported Kenyan beans whilst pausing for refreshment between collecting fabric samples prepared for me in Chelsea Harbour (thanks Pierre Frey). In short, I’ve been living like you. Free and breezy, rich country squeezy. And if my conscience ever so often pricked at the never-ending trail of plastic and emissions and discarded textiles generated in my wake I tried hard not to dwell on the terrible gnawing guilt I felt and do feel. I’d still go to sleep on yet another new mattress which replaced the recently discarded one (kid; shameful stains) and I’d think, I’ll do better tomorrow.
Now today is tomorrow. Or tomorrow is today. Or, today is today. Or tomorrow never comes.
I now fully grasp that the bill for my selfish planet wrecking ways has come due. And my people, the ones who did nothing or very little indeed to rack up the environmental cost are to pay. My beloved Barbados’ perfect seaside vistas and shorelines are fading. Climate change they say. Take the cliffs (littorally*, no-one else seems keen to touch ‘em) – rapidly rising sea levels mean that they are taking a hell of a pounding. Beautiful cliff front plots now languish on the market like yesterday’s fish. Faced with the specter of millions upon millions of dollars of foreign investment crumbling into the sea, the government has wisely taken to making sure costly erosion surveys are carried out before planning is granted and if planning is granted, and that’s an IF, the home must be set at least 10 meters back from the cliff’s undercut. Barbados is to become the land of narrow houses with chic, if fleeting, views. The island, if it loses the tourist dollars its coastline brings, will be sunk. A latter day Atlantis languishing under an ocean of debt because the coral died and the pink sands just blew away.
More graphic still? The metaphoric and visceral imagery conjured up in the mind’s eye by the sight of wave upon wave of villi-like reddish sargassum. Sometimes two meters high, it meets with jarring contrast the brilliant white sands of the east coast. Scenes at the Crane reminds one of nothing so terrifying as terminally ill guts, made fetid by some disease of debauchery, seeking temporary but futile relief by discharging its foul contents within a pristinely white toilet bowl. The planet retching its innards. The sight, even in videos, raises the gorge.
I didn’t know about the sargassum. That is, until I sought out clues for why the exact same astoundingly beautiful plot of East Coast seaside with an asking price of USD 850,000 in May was quietly posted on an agent’s website for USD 197,000 in December. The only hint for this neo-Sherlockian to go on was an innocuous sounding ‘…while it does collect Sargassum seaweed at times, the water is often calm and comfortable for swimming…’ Is that all? A bit of seaweed?
I have now read about and seen stirring videos of the stuff plaguing various Caribbean islands. These tourism dependent states have found their beaches and livelihoods suddenly and inexplicably under attack by, well, algae. And pretty mean algae it is too. My understanding is that troubling as it looks it’s the pong that really makes the papers. Many parts of my native island are now known to suffer from an annual olfactory plague as the sargassum in its rotting abundance emits a god awful stench as, sadly do the dolphins, turtles and other sea life who meet their untimely end amongst the tendrils. Paradise Lost indeed.
As I write these words it is the 2nd January 2022. I’ve swapped a sofa in St. John’s Wood for a warm and rather lovely vacation house in Dartmouth just beside the River Dart– a grey and wet waterside town seemingly a world away from my own lost paradise and its in situ losers. I had come here to retreat from real and imagined strains of my London life and to daydream about plots in the sun. Instead, this morning, I have re-listened to the now iconic speech given by the Rt. Hon Mia Mottley’s at COP26 in Scotland. I have re-listened with new ears and eyes since I am more alert to the fact that I am in fact regarding a seriously frightened woman. Our leader is far less interested in UN recognition and awards than immediate, desperate action by the rich countries who must take it. Our Barbados, as we know it, is going by degrees. In fact, Ms Mottley reckons that two degrees is all that stands between our island state and its demise. Climate change is here. It ishappening. It will be Hell. People – Bajans, Maldivians and Madagascans will die alongside the dolphins and the turtles, caught in the inescapable maelstrom of an indignant planet. Us brown people will die first. But, the west will succumb too.
Ms Mottley is frightened. I am frightened. But I feel other feelings besides. Bitter realization, for one. Yes, I feel that. I know now I had always symbolically ridden alongside my brethren bus driver on our daily diesel fueled dashes through the great so called Western Civilisation which has, with its haste for unsustainable ‘progress’ blighted us all. I took the money brown people just don’t earn growing bananas and I turned a blind eye to the way of life that was condemning other brown people like me to die. But that isn’t the worst of it. I have searched my heart these dark Dartmouth evenings and in my heart I have found a thought there so frightening in its implications that it shames me to give it life through words. It is that my proximity to whiteness, if maintained, could mean that my own date with the creeping carnage may be delayed, if not deferred. Rich countries, inarguably most to blame for the ecological state of the planet, will act in their own self-interests. So too it would seem, will they who have adopted the hypocritical values of the rich industrialised nations. To my shame, I have decided to retain a flat in the UK as a safe haven for the day when I or my child or my grandchild might need to flee the Caribbean for the West when the sound of the cliffs and currency and contingencies crumbling into the sea become too adamant, too deafening, too desperate to ignore. It is not beyond imagining a day when access to the harbour most ruthless, greedy and armed to the teeth may mean salvation. It shames me to admit on what side of the weaponry I would prefer myself or my descendants to be. This, of course, places me firmly on the wrong side of history and indeed human morality. The image of a half Afro-flesh, half machine buccaneers afloat on the high seas on a vessel bearing a tattered British flag a-plundering and a-looting from other defenseless brown people for King and Crown comes to mind.
I don’t know. Perhaps I am being pessimistic. Perhaps the two weeks sitting in Dartmouth in the grey drizzle has made me see the world through mud tinted glasses. Perhaps electric cars will turn things around. Perhaps that plot of land is still available because I am just lucky. Perhaps my son will inherit that longed for house by the sea and his non-cybernetically enhanced children will enjoy it yet. Perhaps the sargassum will stop coming. Perhaps Paradise is waylaid, not Lost. Perhaps Mother Earth will forgive my sins. Perhaps all will be well.
*Pun intended – Littoral / adjective / related to or situated on the shore of the sea or a lake