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REgenTT Perspectives presents: Amrita Collymore

At REgenTT Perspectives we aim to give a platform to those who are passionate about making a positive change in Trinidad and Tobago and to inspire others to action. One such person is our newest contributor Miss Amrita Collymore, a student of Civil with Environmental Engineering, and a young lady with a real passion for creating sustainable cities and improving the built environment. Below are some insights into Amrita's future goals and inspirations, a truly inspiring individual.

Ms. Amrita Collymore, BSc Candidate in Civil with Environmental Engineering

What are you currently studying and what inspired you to pursue this qualification?

I am currently pursuing a BSc in Civil with Environmental Engineering.I never truly knew what career path I wanted to follow and I did not know much about civil engineering before I started this degree, however, I have always been fascinated with green building design. During my free time I would find myself binge-watching YouTube videos on new and innovative ways people were using old and new technology to make infrastructure more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. When the time came to choose my degree, I decided I wanted to do something related to green building. I was advised that Civil Engineering would be a good place to start and so, here I am.

Do you think we as a nation value the input of students and researchers?

T&T is a highly educated society yet; I don’t think we value our students or researchers enough and it is reflected in the lack of innovators/innovations coming out of our country. This is not due to a lack of talented people as many of our nationals are going abroad and doing amazing work. It more has to do with our education system and institutions which don’t provide spaces or resources to encourage research which will in turn result in innovation. Many students end up going to school just to get a degree then get employment, instead of going to school to become true thinkers and problem solvers.

Have you met anyone or encountered a situation in your life that inspired you to be interested in sustainability?

I am inspired to be interested in sustainability every single day just by observing what is going on around me. No matter where I turn I see the effects of unsustainable human activities; from water shortages to animal extinctions to garbage-clogged drains that cause that cause flooding and garbage islands the size of Texas in our ocean, the list goes on. However, everywhere I look I also see people mobilizing to solve these problems. Locally, the movement towards sustainability has been slow but if you look closely there have been efforts made that are truly inspiring. For example, the Savannah East building around the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, houses RGM Ltd and is the first LEED certified green building in Trinidad and Tobago. Additionally, Lydia Singh is currently working on building the first Living Building in Trinidad and Tobago. I recently visited a permaculture farm called Wa Samaki Ecosystem in Freeport and they utilise a “whole systems" approach to land-use planning based on the patterns of symbiotic relationships between land, water, wind, soil, animals, and people inherent in natural eco-systems. Also, iCare recycling bins are popping up all over the country and there are beach clean-ups organized by members of the public. Seeing all this inspires me to get up and do my part.

What is your vision for a sustainable T&T?

My vision is a green T&T, boasting the greenest cities in the region. In 2016 T&T was reported to have the 4th highest climate debt per capita in the world. As we seem to love ranking on top, my vision is that we flip the script and work towards having the lowest climate debt per capita and become leaders in the fight towards a more sustainable world. We have the talent and the resources to make it happen; what is missing is the will.

In your opinion what are some key issues that we need to address for a more Sustainable T&T?

As a nation we have been blessed with rich natural resources and thanks to this,the cost of living is relatively cheap for our population. This, however, has created a horrible culture of wastefulness. We leave taps running and pipes leaking, we leave AC units running in empty buildings and everyone drives their own cars instead of carpooling because gas is cheap, and electricity and water are cheaper. We have no care for the environment because our economy does not rely on tourism. We need a reformation of the mind-set and culture of the people; to one where we utilize our resources responsibly.

Trinbagonians not only need to recycle more but also reduce, reuse and rot (compost) waste. This has been preached to us for years; I learnt the four R’s in primary school but for a long time never actually saw it being practiced. In the last couple of years I have seen a valiant effort made towards recycling, in particular by iCARE with their collection bins all over the country, however, we still have a long way to go. Additionally, the approval of the ban on styrofoam is a step in the right direction which will hopefully be followed by a ban on single-use plastics. Countries such as such as Antigua and Barbuda, Colombia and Rwanda have already implemented this ban, showing that it is possible. Instead of looking at this as a challenge that we have to face, we can take it as an opportunity to introduce green packaging into our manufacturing industry as there will be a gap in the local and international market.

Diversification of our economy is another key issue to be addressed for a sustainable T&T. Our oil may not run out in the immediate future but eventually it will run out and we need to be ready. The world is moving towards renewable energy and the relevant technology is advancing faster than we expected. Wind and solar energy are becoming cheaper and cheaper and soon enough will be rivaling costs of natural gas power plants.

The transition to a sustainable T&T is not an easy feat, ,however, with a strong political will, buy-in from the corporate sector and most importantly, a society determined to make the change, we can make it happen.

What areas of sustainability are you interested in making an impact in and why?

Sustainability is an extremely broad field that can be implemented in every aspect of our lives. The United Nations Rio+20 Conference in 2012 highlighted seven areas which need priority attention; these include decent jobs, energy, sustainable cities, food security and sustainable agriculture, water, oceans and disaster readiness. Of these seven areas I have taken a keen interest in sustainable cities and water.

The world is in a water crisis and there are entire cities in South Africa and India, for example, that have been on the verge of running out of water completely. Closer to home, only 16.6% and 39.6% of the population in Trinidad and Tobago, respectively, are provided with a 24-hour supply by WASA. Personally, I am tired of my water being cut for days on end and if, as a Civil Engineer, I am able to do something about it I would definitely want to try. In terms of sustainable cities, this is what got me into civil engineering in the first place, so to make an impact in this field would be a great personal achievement for me.

What are your personal goals?

My immediate short term goal for the next couple of months is to get an internship related to sustainable development. In terms of my year-long goal, finishing this last year of my degree strong is at the top of my list. In terms of my long term goals, it is my hope to make a significant impact on T&T’s built environment through green building practices.

As a contributor to REgenTT Perspectives, what can our readers expect from you in the future?

In the future I would like to explore ways in which we as a society can make changes to live more sustainably, discussing old and new technologies and practices that could possibly be implemented and highlighting organizations and individuals within our community who have already made efforts in this regard.

If you had three wishes what would they be?

My first wish would be to make healthy vegan food taste just as good my favorite junk foods. My second wish is that we discover a foolproof solution to climate change and that we aren’t too late. And for my last wish, would it be cheating to ask for three more wishes?

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