CO-FOUNDER of IAMovement Jonathan Barcant is proud to be a tree hugger. IAMovement is a TT-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) which promotes protection of the natural environment of TT and emphases the socio-economic benefits of "going green."
"Leaving the Caribbean space for an extended period and seeing how the whole big world can operate with good systems and being pushed to look outside the box from childhood had a profound impact. I told myself I could not have come back to TT after leaving for college in Canada, especially seeing the lack of progress in environmental and social issues. I told myself I would have never returned until retirement where I would go to Tobago. It was funny, however, that the same things that kept me away, are the things that made me return and stay. These things give me a sense of purpose on this mission."
The 31 year-old lover of nature who hikes regularly, he said he is in love with the flora and fauna of TT and enjoys being called a tree hugger.
"I see being a tree hugger as a good thing. The United Nations, in a publication, said reforesting a trillion trees could be the greatest solution for saving us from the negative impacts of global warming. We should all love trees!"
This love inspired the purchase of what he calls his tiny piece of paradise in Parlatuvier, Tobago.
"But not much was happening in TT to build awareness around the protection of this beautiful natural environmental in 2014 when the organisation was formed."
The NGO was formed by a group of TT youth seeking to make a small difference. But what started as a group of like-minded people making an effort to spread the message of environmental protection and sustainability grew into an organisation poised to help protect the Caribbean's environmental and economic interests.
These interests range from the protection of coastlines and how this affects tourism and ecotourism to using renewable energy to cut energy costs. The movement also spreads awareness on the importance of protecting the environment as a major resource for boosting regional income.
"At that time TT was the second highest producer of greenhouse gases in the world per capita."
Working as a civil engineer specialising in soil, water and the environment had a great impact on his push toward helping to protect the environment through climate adaptation and mitigation.
Climate adaptation relates to putting systems in place for society to change its way of life in a changing climate. It involves adjusting to current and anticipated climate and involves optimising the potential benefits of climate change, which include longer growing seasons or increased yields in some regions.
Climate mitigation relates to measures put in place to reduce the pace of climate change. This includes reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by reducing sources of these gases. An example of this is by reducing the use of fossil fuels for generating electricity, heat or transportation.
"IAMovement is doing a lot of work with vetiver grass, which is now being recognised as an innovative tool for which we have gotten numerous regional and international recognition – leading us to getting a lot of work in focusing on climate adaptation."
The vetiver plant grows as tall as five feet, with roots going as deep as 13 feet. The plant, which originated in India, is used for climate adaptation through what is called the vetiver system. Barcant said this involves using vetiver grass as a bio-engineering tool to solve many land and water-related challenges.
"It depends on situation needs, and can be implemented alone, or in combination with other traditional hard-engineered solutions such as retaining walls to prevent land slippage, gabion baskets and geotextiles."
The motivation for forming the organisation was fuelled by the annual energy subsidy given to the TT Electricity Commission (TTEC) by the government in 2014 having been approximately US$1 billion.
"That is what was being spent annually for us to run around on 'cheap energy.'"
This, he said, prompted an investigation into the cost of renewable energy by analysing how it benefited countries such as Canada and Chile. In these countries, solar panels and wind turbines are widely used.
"The estimated cost of using renewable energy is dramatically less. When looking at the energy consumption of Tobago, we found we could theoretically make Tobago (energy use) 100 per cent renewable, spending 25 per cent of the money spent annually. Four years of that subsidy could also make TT 100 per cent renewable."
The National Gas Company (NGC) currently sells natural gas to TTEC at approximately US$1.35/MMBtu (one million British Thermal Units. BTU is a scale for measuring energy content in fuel).
However, the NGC buys it for approximately 2.5 times that price and sells, at a subsidised cost, approximately 270 million cubic feet of natural gas a day. Calculations indicate that the amount covered by subsidies from the government has not changed much since 2014.
"This means the country is spending money on energy which could be saved and invested in other industries – especially in the midst of a move toward diversifying the economy of TT."
Barcant said it is, however, not as simple as unplugging.
"There are existing power grids and systems, suppliers and plants which have a certain life cycle and time. So it is not as simple as switching and terminating the contracts."
He said research shows it can be done: "For every dollar of natural gas or barrel of oil not consumed by TT, the country could benefit by selling it overseas or send (it) to the refinery in Point Lisas to generate more revenue and create jobs through petrochemical products. It is a win-win."
He said the change toward growing energy efficiency establishing more renewable energy infrastructure would therefore not only benefit TT by protecting the environment but also having an impact on the social and economic state of the country.
The public was initially sceptical because TT depends greatly on the fossil-fuel industry: the energy sector accounts for around 34.9 per cent of the country’s GDP. But after the economic and social benefits of a shift toward a "greener approach," people who attended events and students who participated in presentations made in schools gained greater understanding, Barcant said.
"It is not about shutting down our fuel industry, it is for our country and TT's energy security. Supplies are declining, so it is important that we use them in the smartest way. People became gradually more excited when they realised as a collective they can make a difference."
JOURNEY OF THE MOVEMENT
The IAMovement was founded after Barcant returned to TT in 2014 after seeing 10,000 acres of virgin rainforest in Panama being cleared to create an open-pit copper mine.
"Picture Moka, Maraval to Blanchisseuse being levelled!"
Within three months of returning to TT, during a conversation, Barcant who was 25 at the time, his brother Daniel and a number of friends started bringing together a group of people who thought TT needed positive social-environmental change.
In that year, the group organised the first Port of Spain People's Climate March, during the UN Climate Summit in New York City – one of 2,000-plus global climate marches on the same day. "What made it possible was the diversity of our team, which includes entrepreneurs, a web designer, graphic artist, filmmaker, marine biologists and engineers, to name a few."
In 2014 the IAMovement was officially registered as a non-government organisation at the Ministry of Legal Affairs under the 1995 Companies Act.
and hosted the second People's Climate March, in partnership with the European Union, the UN, the French Embassy, and over 20 local environmental groups. The group also organised an Eco-Village in the Queen's Park Savannah, which included booths providing information on renewable energy and the sustainable use of energy resources.
"In 2016 we got a lot of help and guidance from Christine Norton as a mentor. She had decades of experience working with the UN and worked all over the world."
Barcant said in a few consultations, Norton she helped the team refine their direction and put important principles in place such as a two-year plan and seeking funding.
IAMovement made another monumental step in 2016 with the production of a short film titled $MALL CHANGE. Made by filmmaker Dylan Quesnel, it was shown at festivals including the TT Film Festival, Green Screen Environmental Film Festival, National Film Festival for Talented Youth (NFFTY), London Lift-Off Film Festival, the New York Lift-Off Film Festival and the Caribbeantales International Film Festival.
The short film featured footage from the work and events organised by the group in 2015.
"We worked with people from completely different backgrounds, people like Paramin farmer Ellis Emmanuel, energy and sustainability policy consultant Fern Gray, Dizzanne Billy of the Caribbean Climate Trackers, environmental consultant Nakita Poon Kong, business owner Chelsea Nicholls and Robert Tang Yuk, managing director of TYE Manufacturing Company Ltd."
The featured professionals discussed the effects of climate change, and how a shift to using renewable energy may positively affect the environment and socio-economic state.
In 2017 the organisation launched Climate Talks in collaboration with the Canadian High Commission and the German Embassy. This entailed over 40 events across TT in schools, private and public service organisations, public spaces.
Last year saw a return of Climate Talk, which included 30 events and the production of the REthinking Energy video series. The 2018 series of events was held in partnership with the NGC.
"Having the NGC on board was a clear indication of how valuable moving toward energy efficiency and renewable energy is, and how it benefits the whole in so many ways."
The movement's theme for 2019 is Moving Forward! The organisation created a REthinking Energy online learning portal and hosted more 40 Climate Talk events across TT. To celebrate World Environment Day on June 1 and 8, IAMovement teamed up with a group of over 60 volunteers from the Unity Trust Corporation Foundation to plant over 4,000 vetiver plants and 30 hardwood and fruit trees. These were to prevent erosion and provide stabilisation along the south coast of Trinidad, near Quinam beach. It also serves as additional habitat for wildlife.
Its ingenuity and efforts have been recognised internationally, as Barcant's company Vetiver TT, which developed the original VEEP project model, working in partnership with the Paramin Development Committee, has won awards.
Vetiver TT was awarded the 2017 Resource Award First Runner Up, with Swiss Re Foundation in Switzerland, for the Vetiver Education and Empowerment Project (VEEP) in Paramin. The company also holds the 2018 Social Investment Project of the Year Award for single market economies from the Energy Chamber, for the same VEEP project.
Barcant also received the 2018 Regional Commonwealth Youth Award for the Caribbean and Americas, for Excellence in Development.
"This was based on the VEEP project as well as IAMovement’s climate action work – climate marches, climate talk and other events."
The group has achieved more than he could have foreseen.
"Years ago I did not think I could be part of the change because I was not following the typical career path. I could not have imagined doing it here in TT.
"Over the past six years I have completely fallen in love with my country again in a way that I could have never known before."
Barcant has been invited to attend a number of international World Economic Forum events, in 2015, 2017 and 2018; the Annual Meeting of the New Champions (AMNC) in China in 2015;
Sustainable Development Impact Summit (SDIS) in 2017 in New York; and the Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth (4IR) in San Francisco in 2018.
"What started as a group of people who just wanted to make an impact became an organised movement. The name IAMovement speaks to that awareness of who we are as a people, and the movement – the act of getting things done, as a unified movement. We have gotten a lot done over the years by doing research, working hard while learning through trial and error to get stronger."
Visit https://iamovement.org/ for more information.