An edited version of this article was published in the Trinidad Express, February 13th 2014
Praying for environmental action
During the recently concluded National Week of Prayer, one day was assigned to pray for the environment. With the Beetham landfill fires belching inescapable toxic fumes, oil spills polluting our coasts and smothering our wildlife, and devastating floods and landslides at the slightest rain, it is obvious that our islands are increasingly unable to sustain us. It is good that religious bodies and the government recognise that T&T’s environment needs a miracle; but now that the prayers have been said, what’s next?
Going beyond prayer
T&T’s major religious denominations (Christianity, Hinduism and Islam) all call on believers to take responsibility for the earth and its creatures. The Bible is full of teachings that call upon Christians to fulfil their role and responsibility as caretakers or stewards to God, the rightful owner of the earth. Stewardship is a moral obligation and environmental destruction is the destruction of God’s creation. Hindus believe that the Divine is everywhere and we are not separate from Nature. The Muslim holy book, The Qur’an contains many verses that speak to environmental protection. The Islamic approach to the environment involves Tawhid, the unity principle, Fitra, the principle of the natural state, Mizan, the balance principle and Khalifa, the responsibility principle. Internationally, many religious groups have issued a call to act on such environmental principles.
The Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) is an international organisation bridging religion and the environment. Based in the UK, it was founded by His Royal Highness Prince Philip in 1995. ARC’s aim, according to their website, is “to assist the major religions of the world to develop environmental programmes based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices”. ARC works to help faiths turn their ecological teachings into action. Working with representatives of the world’s major faiths, they focus on developing “Long Term Commitments for a Living Planet”. These are faith-based commitments to environmental action to address pressing global environmental issues such as climate change. ARC has worked on projects that include transformation of a municipal rubbish dump to an urban green space, a green guide to Hajj, sacred sanctuaries for wildlife, reduction of soil erosion in the Sahara and organic agriculture initiatives.
Another inspirational organisation is GreenFaith, one of the most widely recognised religious environmental organisations in the US. They have been hard at work since the 1990s implementing programmes to address environmental issues. According to GreenFaith, for the religious community to make a difference for the environment, religious institutions and individuals must live out stewardship in everyday action. They provide congregations from multiple faiths with approaches to religious-environmental engagement. GreenFaith’s programmes include energy conservation and the use of renewable energy in religious institutions, environmental health and justice programmes and religious-environmental training programmes for clergy and lay leaders.
These international organisations demonstrate that faith-based action can help us achieve a cleaner, healthier environment. Many Trinbagonians are moved by a profound faith. In T&T we have had a week of prayer; but given the path we are on, prayer can only take us part of the way. The question remains, how do we turn our faith into a cleaner, greener, safer T&T? It requires more than just a sermon here and there, a yearly tree planting exercise, or changing a few light bulbs. Our environmental problems are not easy fixes. They are ongoing, so the solutions have to be ongoing as well.
If prayer alone can solve our problems, then prayers should include an urgent request for an improved human respiratory system that can breathe toxic fumes, a tough integumentary (skin) system to safely swim in waters that are about as clean as a toilet bowl and an improved digestive that can digest toxins and plastics.
If you have a local faith-based environmental action project you would like to share, feel free to let us know.
For information and inspiration:
The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences - www.ifees.org.uk
The Bhumi Project - www.bhumiproject.org
Eco-Congregation - www.ecocongregation.org
Our good friends, the snakes. Let them slither!
Wap! Wap! Swings from the cutlass. "Yuh miss it. It crawling away! Get it before it bite me or de family!" The neighbour has cornered a little horsewhip snake (pictured). "My lady is pregnant and it want to beat her!" The snake managed to escape this time, not without a couple of swings by the husband gallantly protecting his pregnant wife from a supposed beating from the snake. Snakes and humans are always in conflict. Most of the time the snake meets its untimely death at the hands of the cutlass (machete), a rock to its head, or by being purposely rolled over by a vehicle.
One of the common myths about horsewhip snakes is that they chase and whip pregnant women. The amount of lashes you get indicates how far along you are in your pregnancy. Hmmmmmm. For the record, snakes don't chase and beat pregnant women. They cannot tell if your wife is pregnant and even if the could, I doubt they would care very much. The dreaded horsewhip is non-venomous. They have no teeth (Leptophis sp.) and are an integral part of our ecoystem.
We refer to the dog as ‘man’s best friend’ but I would like to make a case that the snake is a pretty good friend as well. I will admit that I am very much a lover of creepy-crawlies, inclusive of spiders and bugs. I have been around snakes since childhood, keeping them as pets for more than ten years and later, as a medical professional, treating them. Certainly, some of them can give a nasty bite if cornered but their horrid reputation is very much undeserved. General consensus - a lot of us really despise these creatures and I've been told they make a person's skin crawl. I am not advocating that you turn into a snake lover, but understand they also have a very important role and are extremely beneficial to us. Give them the respect they deserve!
Trinidad and Tobago has 47 identified species of snakes, of which ONLY 4 are venomous. These are the Bushmaster or mapepire zanana (Lachesis muta muta), Fer-de-lance or mapepire balsain (Bothrops atrox) and two species of coral snake, large and small (Micrurus circinalis and Micrurus leminscatus diutius respectively) and none of these are found in Tobago. The likelihood of chancing upon any of these is low. They are rare and unless you decide to venture into their home, typically dense forest, or live in areas that have encroached into their habitat you are quite lucky if you spot one. Snakes found in gardens and lawns are unlikely to be one of the 4 listed.
We all are aware of the danger snakes pose to humans. However, venomous snake bites are rare and I am a bit tired of the obviously exaggerated stories of snakes attacking and trying to eat people. Most recent is a 20 ft yellow bellied puffing snake that supposedly ran one of our local CEPEP workers down. Everyone became cutlass crazy looking to chop this 20 ft beast into a million pieces. Just to clarify, the puffing snake (Pseustes sulphureus sluphureus) is not a venomous snake. Another exaggeration, it reaches maximum 3m (approx 9 ft) in length and it definitely does not run down people, as has been claimed in numerous stories.
Even if you are bitten, treatment is available and deaths are extremely uncomon. In my own experience treating hunting dogs bitten by venomous snakes, we have successfully treated the dogs with a great survival rate. In general snakes conserve venom for prey. When venomous snakes bite in self-defense, they will often deliver little or no venom (mild envenomation or a 'dry bite' respectively).
But I digress! What can snakes do for us?
In Trinidad and Tobago, everyone knows the Boa constrictor constrictor, locally called a macajuel. According to rough estimates, every macajuel killed saves the lives of about 3,000 rats. Thus, without snakes, these vermin are free to play. By the way, contrary to popular belief, they are non-venomous (i.e. no poison, as we say in Trinidad) and they don't eat humans!
Besides keeping the disease vermin under control (nature's biological weapon), we also benefit from medical wonders coming out of snake venom research. Snake venom is an exciting cocktail of enzymes and non-enzymatic compounds, proteins, carbohydrates and metals and continues to astound researchers with possibilities for treatment of various diseases. The medical possibilities of snake venom offer promising hope in dealing with diseases including cancer, tumour growth, Alzheimer’s, Lyme disease, hanta virus, leukaemia, clotting disorders and list goes on...
The next time you pick up your rock or cutlass (machete) to reign blows on these wonderful animals, please think twice. They make our lives better.
Live and let slither!
Healthy, Happy Animals - Healthy, Happy Communities