LGBTQIA+ Composting and Collective Joy while the Earth is Burning
By: Vidyaratha Kissoon
Earth is burning
"last question.. how do we centre collective joy while the earth is burning?".. the facilitator asked during the final session of the 2023 Caribbean Women for Climate Justice conference.
The 'earth is burning' sounded strange. Rain and flood two days before but then the place was hot and humid while I was listening to the session. And overnight rain as I type this.
The Climate Conscious Podcast, The Breadfruit Collective and Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), with kind support from the Open Society Foundations, partnered to host the 2023 Caribbean Women for Climate Justice (CW4CJ). The first one was held in 2022.
The organisers invited me to be on one of the panels. I felt a bit imposter-ish as I have just the average amateur knowledge of the climate change concepts and have not been involved in any organising around climate justice.
The organisers though, were intentional in bringing people with different experiences to participate in the discussions. And to share knowledge and to learn.
".. I wonder.. if compost believes in life after death" is in the poem Being Human. shared during the final session of the Conference. The 'compost' resonates . A Rotarian friend told me to get composting "don't worry wid all the technical things, just put the plant scraps in a container". And I turn up a container in the backyard and start throwing plant scraps in it without worrying about layers and so on.
But I think about the other conversations I have had about composting, with diverse people - a queer woman ; a bisexual man who planted garden as he separated from his wife; an elderly lesbian living in a rural community who doesn't understand why more people don't compost.
The first panel of the conference, 'Different Boats, Same Sea' discussed gender and climate advocacy in the Caribbean. The panel brought together activists for LGBTIQ+ equality, gender justice advocates and climate justice advocates who did not really think about gender.
And I thought about maybe next Caribbean Pride events including climate justice activities including LGBTIQ+ composting , or the World Environment Day activities in June including LGBTIQ+ groups among those who are marginalised from the discussions around dealing with climate change.
I was glad to learn from Emme Christie, queer environmental sociologist from Jamaica, about the Bali Principles of Climate Justice
The Principle 1 of the Bali Principles starts "Affirming the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species..." . This reminds me of my duties, as a Hindu (even if other Hindus believe in the exploitation of the Mother as a way of blessings).
The IUCN in a brief abot gender-based violence and climate change notes that "..environmental degradation and increased competition over scarce resources are exacerbating gender-based violence." As the Earth burns, the inequalities worsen.
I wrote in 2021, and started to suggest in subsequent conversations about gender-based violence, that the violence against Mother Earth was a form of gender-based violence. I was glad to hear Wintress White from Red Thread, in another discussion , also believing that the violence towards Mother Earth as a form of gender-based violence.
"Is all talk.." the survivor of domestic violence said when I asked her about how she felt about her participation in a national forum to change some of the systems to respond to gender-based violence. There is a weirdness in Guyana of the superficial responses, the balloons and other gimmicky events while learning from the past is not applied.
Climate change, gender-based violence, serious matters. Every time I hear teachers and parents beating children, of men abusing women and killing women they are supposed to love , I feel despair. An email from a long time gender justice and climate justice activist about the conference reflected the frustration that the Conference was not urgent enough. So joy in all of this?
The Hindu view of duty and action, is that the offerings are to the Universe and there should be no attachment to the result of any action. Joy and sorrow are fleeting emotions, even if sorrow tends to linger more. And because it is easy to be attached to things which bring joy (chocolate and condensed milk and so) , the question about joy surprises me because I used to imagine that the work for gender justice and climate justice should be temporary, until the world is fixed.. and not lifelong.
So collective joy though, is in this connection which the Conference offered. The organisers, I consider young, were intentionally committed to diversity and to bringing voices which are normally excluded in Caribbean conversations. I shared the Being Human poem on Facebook, and joy in seeing how many people liked it.
And to have the academic experts sharing space with those who were not academically qualified (and I think of the rebuff of the young environmental activist who suggested that since I am not qualified in Urban planning, I have less say than a man who has Masters in it)
There was this non-hierarchical openness, radical shift from the Caribbean plantation, which was unsettling and refreshing. The commitment to intergenerational dialogue was not just to bring us older folks for tokenism as happens when many older folks bring young people to the 'table'.
And so this unexpected joy, at being part of and witnessing, this connection across difference and affirming the interdependence.