Research and Studies

Research and Studies

The global temperature is rising and the climate is changing, this we know is incontrovertible. There are, however, many things which we still don’t know and we admit to it freely. That’s why here, at Richmond Vale Academy, everybody strives to learn something new all the time, furthering our understanding of sciences, biology and sociology. We treat learning as a lifelong process and regularly hold morning assemblies where teachers and students alike share their knowledge with the rest of the academy. Whenever possible, we invite specialists in their fields or make study trips to investigate different ways of dealing with environmental, agricultural, and social issues. We learn from our Vincentian neighbours and friends, as well as from foreign journals and books. A few times per year we hold an Open Day at the academy, during which the teachers, students and guests exchange their knowledge and experiences with each other.

Theoretical Studies at the Academy

During the six months program of the Climate Compliance Conference we study and research, teachers give courses, and guest speakers are invited. You can expect to study from books and research, papers by scientists and laymen, the signs from observations of weather patterns, ecosystems, ocean temperatures and the atmosphere. Once you’ve left Richmond Vale Academy you will have learned about the causes of climate change, the effects it has – mostly on developing countries – and the ways to counter it, as well as taken practical actions towards making the island of St. Vincent climate compliant.
Examples of 20 courses:

  • The GAIA Theory
  • Measurable Climate Change
  • Feedback loops
  • Science of ecology – the absolute basics
  • Global Warming and Climate Change and how it affects The Poor
  • The role of agriculture in Global Warming and Climate Change
  • The Planetary Boundaries
  • The oceans – a look at the world’s oceans and how they are affected by Global Warming and Climate Change
  • The exploitation of Haiti
  • Soil – practical course
  • Nuclear Power is not the solution
  • Protecting against the loss of biodiversity in St. Vincent
  • St. Vincent our home and our practice area
  • GAIA seen from a third world perspective
  • The consequences of malnutrition and hunger on body and soul
  • Water scarcity worldwide – reasons and possibilities
  • Wars – the true costs and the true winners
  • Junk food out – healthy food in
  • Solar energy: what is it, its potential, and its limitations
  • The role of the oil industry in the state of the world

The GAIA Theory

Gaia is the name from the Greek mythology for Mother Earth and as such it was used by the English chemist James Lovelock to describe his theory that the Earth is an entity which can manage and regulate itself.

In short, it states that the Earth is one giant ecosystem, with all forms of life depending on each other and supporting the system itself. The Earth is not depicted as a live being itself, but as a system of many systems connected together in order to sustain the life itself. Gaia means that the Earth regulates its temperature, acidity, gases in the atmosphere by using different organisms to do it. It is more than the elements it contains and more the interactions and symbiosis between them. All organisms, humans included, are not separate, independent units but depend very much on the others for continued survival on the Earth.

The balances are threatened by human activities. The examples are numerous and well documented. The biological systems of the Earth – the systems that temper climate, purify and store water, recycle wastes and produce the foods – are currently at risk.

These conditions must be changed and we are the only ones with the ability to change them. We have or must develop the technology that allows us to stop the destructive activities and reach a dynamic equilibrium to the benefit and future of all organisms on Earth.

This is what The Climate Compliance Conference actively works for.
As James Lovelock writes:

We have inherited a planet of exquisite beauty. It is the gift of four billion years of evolution. We need to regain our ancient feeling for Earth as an organism and revere it again. Gaia has been the guardian of life for all of its existence; we reject her care at our peril. We can use technology to buy us time while we reform but we remain accountable for the damage we do. The longer we take the larger the bill. If you put trust in Gaia, it can be a commitment as strong and as joyful as that of a good marriage – one where the partners put their trust in one another. The fact that they are mortal makes that trust even more precious.

Read more in:
Lovelock’s foreword to Elisabeth Sahtouris’ book “Earthdance”.

In practice

To complement the theoretical studies, our activists often take trips to investigate good practices in relevant areas of interest. Once there, they talk to the managers, take notes and learn, ask questions and try to apply the newly-gained knowledge to their own projects. They visit our neighbours to ask about their farming practices or go all the way around the island to visit organic farms. They go to hydro-power plant nearby, and water desalination plant on another island. They interview organic soap makers and coconut oil producers, and spend their time talking to older Vincentians, willing to share their knowledge of traditional ways of healing (herbs) and cooking (with local produce). They visit the landfill and the recycling facility. Finally, they have fun during cultural events, where they learn about traditional Vincy culture, from before the colonisation.

 

Below are examples and conclusions of some of our investigations:

Desalination Plant in Bequia

The Grenadines are a chain of small islands that are a part of the state of St. Vincent. Bequia is the second biggest island of the Grenadines, and has about 4,500 inhabitants. Because it has no surface water and no known underground water sources, the inhabitants are facing a big challenge when it comes to potable water for drinking and cooking.

Each household traditionally has its own rainwater collection system, but the rains are very irregular there. Because of notable changes in the climate, seasons are not as reliable as they once were and it becomes harder to predict when the rain season will come. Droughts have become longer and stronger over the last years. Numerous tourists visit the island, making the water consumption even bigger.

In 2012 the World Bank, Global Environment Fund (GEF), and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) implemented a special program for adaptation to Climate Change in Bequia. The project contains several elements, such as the solar power installation on the rooftop of the airport and the water desalination plant.

The water desalination plant with the water distribution system in Bequia seek to provide a sustainable solution to the problem that the island faces to provide its inhabitants with drinkable water. The current plant provides the population of Paget Farm’s community – for about 1,000 inhabitants – with clean drinking water as of 2012.

Mr. Herman Belmar, the key person when it comes to the sustainable development of Bequia, has always offered his help to show, explain and teach about the project for anyone interested to learn.
With the aim to understand better the problems occurring as a result of the changing climate, and looking into sustainable solutions, research has been made by Climate Activists into desalination systems. The plant in Bequia is a good example of how to creatively adapt to the lack of resources and the field trips to the plant have brought a lot of new knowledge to the Climate Compliance Conference.

 Hydro-power Plant in Fitz Hughes

St. Vincent and the Grenadines holds a lot of potential to produce its own renewable energy. There is a geothermal reservoir located under the La Soufriere Volcano, the potential for solar energy is higher than in most places on Earth, and the island location lends itself perfectly for harvesting wind.

The majority of St. Vincent’s energy still comes from burning oil, mostly imported from Venezuela, thus making the economy of the country also dependent on fluctuating oil prices. However, the country does generate 7.7% of its energy from hydro-power. In the village of Fitz Hughes – neighbouring to the Richmond Vale Academy – is a hydroelectric river plant which was commissioned in 1962, and constructed with two turbine units of 550 kW output each.

In our aim to plan the future of St. Vincent, the Climate Compliance students study about the current situation and pay visits to the hydro station plant to learn more about the energy resources of the country. A guided tour with professional explanations gives our students a good understanding and insight into how the energy is harnessed from the rivers of St. Vincent.

The trough system in December 2013 has seriously damaged the water pipes in the area and the rehabilitation work of the hydro station is still under way. The rehabilitation also has made space to increase the volume of energy generated at the plant. The power station in Fitz Hughes is expected to be fully functional again – and open for study visits – very soon.

Medicinal Plant Study

Living healthy and securing our own food and nutrition are high on the agenda at Richmond Vale Academy.

Making St. Vincent self-sufficient in healthy organic foods is one of the main legs of the Climate Compliance Conference. Studying nutritional values of foods and herbs, and studying and growing medicinal plants thus became an important field of research for the Climate Activists.
Selwyn Patterson from Rose Hall, teacher at RVA, has a lot of knowledge and experience with local herbs and medicinal plants. The climate activists, during their stay at the Academy, can learn all about local herbs and how to use natural medicines and strengthen our health by taking in the right foods.

Scientific studies have revealed that indigenous healing practices have strongly influenced the survival and sustainability of the indigenous societies. In carrying out the research about those practices, investigations lead the Climate Compliance activists to the botanical garden in Kingstown. This 250 years old garden holds a variety of trees, plants and flowers, and while there is the possibility to investigate the history of the garden, climate activists go there with the aim to investigate about which medicinal plants are native and useful for the St. Vincent population.
Being an example, at Richmond Vale Academy we use a variety of herbs in many different ways; we dry them in our drying cabinet, we drink them as tea which cures minor ailements and we cook with them. A dedicated herb garden has been established next to the kitchen, and further investigations and expansions are under way.

Effects of Climate Change in St. Vincent

From IWN SVG:

For 32 years, Joel Poyer, a forest technician, has been tending to the forest of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

His job allows him a unique view of what is taking place in the interior of this volcanic east Caribbean nation, where the landscape mostly alternates between deep gorges and high mountains. Poyer, a 54-year-old social and political activist and trade unionist, is hoping that during the 18 months before he retires, he can get the government and people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to focus on how human activities on the nation’s beaches and in its forests are exacerbating the impacts of climate change.

“Right now, it’s like a cancer eating from the inside,” he tells IPS of the actions of persons, many of them illegal marijuana growers, who clear large swaths of land for farming — then abandon them after a few years and start the cycle again.
Over the past few years, extreme weather events have shown the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines how activities happening out of sight in the forest can have a devastating impact on coastal and other residential areas.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has had to spend millions of dollars to protect coastal areas and relocate persons affected by rising sea, as was the case in Layou, a town on the south-western coast, where boardwalk now stands where houses once stood for generations.

Stina Herberg, principal of Richmond Vale Academy in north-western St. Vincent has seen the impact
of climate change on the land- and seascape since she arrived in St. Vincent in 2007.
“Since I came here in 2007, I have seen a very big part of our coastline disappear. (…) The road used to go along the beach, but at a point we had really bad weather and that whole road disappeared. So we got like five metres knocked off our beach. So that was a first warning sign,”
Richmond Vale Academy runs a Climate Compliance Conference, where new students join for up to six months and take part in a 10-year project to help the people in St. Vincent adapt to the challenges of global warming and climate change.

“We had trough system on the 24th of December 2013, and that a took a big bite out of our football field. Maybe 10 percent, 15 percent of that football field was just gone in the trough system. (…) We have been observing this, starting to plant trees, getting more climate conscious, living the disasters through,” she says. The academy recently joined with the Police Cooperative Credit Union to plant 100 trees at Richmond Beach, which has been severely impacted by climate change.

“They will prevent erosion, they will look more beautiful, they will motivate and mobilise people that they can see yes, we can do something,” Herberg tells IPS.
Read the full article at IWN here