Mythology will have us believe that this year is the 400th anniversary of Thanksgiving in the USA, commemorating a harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621. However Prof David J Silverman, George Washington University historian contests this interpretation. In his 1999 book, This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving. He illustrates both the power and diplomatic skills of the indigenous Wampanoag Indians, and “ how all that the Pilgrims ultimately achieved came at the expense of native peoples."
The mythology of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving continues to be taught in schools passed down from one generation to the next by politicians, artists and TV and radio commentators. But Silverman questions the authenticity of this perspective. Focusing on the Wampanoag Indians, he deepens the narrative to consider tensions that developed well before 1620 when the Pilgrims in the Mayflower landed at Plymouth and lasted long after the devastating war of 1675. These events trace the Wampanoags' ongoing struggle for self-determination up to this very day. The unsettling history reveals why some modern Native people in the USA hold a Day of Mourning on Thanksgiving, a holiday which to them celebrates a myth of colonialism and white proprietorship of the United States. This Land is Their Land shows that it is time to rethink how as a pluralistic nation, Americans tell, understand and celebrate the true history of Thanksgiving.
A glance at received wisdom reveals that:
While recounting these essential elements in the history of Thanksgiving, Silverman offers an eye-opening and vital reexamination of what he calls “America's founding myth." 400 years after that famous meal between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, he sheds profound new light on the events that led to the creation and bloody dissolution of this alliance. It is as revelation of fact vs. fiction as well as the complex relationship between the Wampanoag Indians and Pilgrims, their declared friendship, and the commitment to mutual defense that became a war just one generation after the so-called “First Thanksgiving.”
Inventing the Truth
The Thanksgiving myth suggests celebration of the first thanksgiving feast in 1621 was an initial encounter between English and the Wampanoag Indians which ended with the war between them in 1675. Yet historical records show encounters between the two groups dating back to 1500s. Silverman points out that it is convenient to demarcate 1621 -1675 because it allows for a counter narrative of white American triumphalism and manifestations of white nationalism to propagate the conversion of native Indians to Christianity and underestimate the prominent role of the Wampanoag leader Pumetacom and the native Indians who fed the Pilgrims at Plymouth , taught them farming techniques that saved their lives from the ravages of diseases. At the same time it fails to describe that the resistance of the Wampanoagians collapsed because native Indians surrendered and joined the English in 1675; that contrary to promises made, the English seized all Wampanoag property, made them bound labourers, held massive executions and sold them into the horrors of Caribbean slavery.
Silverman illustrates that throughout 17th Century to the early 19th Century Thanksgiving bore no actual association between Indians and pilgrim. The link between the holiday and history is propagated in a book, Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers by Rev Alexander Young which mythologized the first Thanksgiving as the first harvest festival in what Silverman describes as the most famous footnote ever as it was subsequently disseminated by authors, lecturers, artists until in it was taken for granted. The 'gift of citizenship' to the Wampanoag that contributed to them surrendering in the 1675 war was indeed a trojan horse that robbed them of their remaining land. According to Silverman, “White Americans reduced Indians to bit parts. Pilgrims emerged as founding father at the time of cultural anxiety that the lands were being overrun by immigrants especially Catholics from Ireland and Germany".
A most vital contemporary exposure of the myth of Thanksgiving identified in the book is that of Frank James a Wampanoag, born in Martha's Vineyard 1948 who became Director of the Conservatory in the North East. He condemned what was supposed to be the 350th anniversary of Thanksgiving in 1976, as Plymouth’s manufactured history, a contribution to perpetuation of slavery and the betrayal of the native people who helped the Pilgrims to survive. Thanksgiving Day is therefore a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. It was advocated as a Day of Mourning. James' Thanksgiving speech was a pertinent eulogy: “Participants in this National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression that Native Americans continue to experience.”
As we celebrate Thanksgiving day in the USA and elsewhere in the world and even at different times, especially in this COVID 19 era, it is useful to reflect on the religious interpretations and draw on the two pillars: gratitude and thanks. In a programme on NBC Today (November 24, 2021) Michael Curry the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church of the USA, described gratitude as an attitude and giving thanks as an action. In other words gratitude appreciates the blessings in one's life, but on its own, is insufficient. Christians to whom Lincoln appealed in his thanksgiving proclamation in 1863 are called to be doers of the word (James 1:22). They are required to go beyond being grateful and be intentional about giving thanks.
What are the implications for us. In a most basic sense we need to be grateful for being alive and sharing in the blessings of this life. More concretely we need to give thanks that children and more people are getting vaccines; for a world hopeful about the end of COVID 19 ; for a global wave that is becoming more aware and taking action (even slowly) on climate change to save the planet; and most of all, that we have an opportunity to reimagine and take action toward a different way of living based on social justice for all. Silverman teaches us that in celebrating Thanksgiving "we do ourselves no good by hiding from the truth."
What's The Caribbean Response to the Legacy of COP 26 in Glasgow
In presenting the outcome document from COP26, Alok Sharma, President of the Conference pronounced"We kept 1.5 degrees alive but its pulse is weak. This is the moment of Truth for the planet". John Kerry softened the embarrassing disappointment by saying "Glasgow was not the finishing line and was never going to be. Nations will still have much more to do on their emissions cutting goals to ensure the 1.5 limit" The truth for the Planet is that the majority of the 20 largest countries contribute to 80 percent of the global emissions . Consequently, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that if all the current long term commitments were fully followed through the world would limit heating to 1.8 degrees in the long term. However the gap between the long term ambitions and countries' crucial short term targets for 2030 would result in heating of 2.4C.
This is far removed from the six key demands put forward by Small Island Development States (SIDS) and Climate Justice advocates. As Hon. Gaston Brown, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and chair of both SIDS and the CARICOM Community puts it: these six key demands for World Leaders that, if met, should ensure our nations are not entirely submerged by rising sea levels. They include:
As Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley so emphatically and persausively pronounced at the opening plenary : ‘1.5°C is what we need to survive, 2°C is a death sentence... We do not want that dreaded death sentence, and we've come here to say, try harder.’
In the final analysis, not one of these key demands by SIDS was met in its entirety. While pondering the discussions on the mixed results of Glasgow, few may recall that "1.5 degrees to stay alive" was the clarion call of the Caribbean at COP15 in Copenhagen, 2009 based on research by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre. More immediate however, are the implications for the Caribbean of two interrelated concerns: (a) Is CARICOM paying heed to the results of related research from our Universities and Scientists? Are our Universities maximizing the benefits of a collaborative approach to public education and dissemination of their research findings?
A Vibrant Ecosystem of Research: Keeping Hope Alive in the Caribbean
COP26 left no doubt that the world is in a race towards renewable energy sources. Even before Glasgow, this was fully recognized in the seminal work, The State of the Caribbean Climate by The Climate Studies Group at UWI Mona, UWI, led by Professor Michael Taylor in collaboration with The Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology led by Dr. Cedric J Van Meerbeck and funded by CDB, April 2020. ( See link) It is important to note a companion Report by the Organization Eastern Caribbean States Climate Trends and Projections for the OECS Region which presents the OECS Climate Adaptation Strategy and Action Plan (April 2020).
Like the UWI study, it advocates for adaptation of climate services involving preparation and delivery of climate information to meet users' needs with partnerships among providers, researchers and users of climate services.
The UWI study however is more expansive in advancing policy options, which can in turn play a key role in facilitating the Caribbean's transition to a resilient future. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires far-reaching transformations across power generation, buildings, industry, transport, land use, coastal zone management, and agriculture, as well as the immediate scale-up of technological carbon removal and climate finance. Accordingly, it promotes decarbonizing by focusing on Power. It presents the case that wind and solar power generation technologies which are already available at scale, would be the quickest sector to decarbonize. The demand for power would double as other sectors switch to electricity and green hydrogen, requiring renewables production and storage capacity to be rapidly scaled up. Similarly for transportation, the trend to carbon neutrality in the next decade is based on adoption of electrical vehicles and for agriculture, using more efficient sources of energy. The policy guidance from these two studies but particular UWI's, revolves around three pillars of functional' cooperation:
The directives from these studies identify underlying conditions that enable adequate responses to climate change. They include supportive policies, innovations, strong institutions, leadership, and shifts in social norms. It is interesting to note that The Watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT) states that global greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 will still be roughly twice as high as what's necessary to limit warming to 1.5 degrees — a threshold scientists have said the planet should stay under to avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. The net-zero goals of 40 countries account for 85% of global emissions cuts, but the group found only 6% of those emissions were backed up by concrete plans. At this rate Finance for climate action, one of the major demands from SIDS, for example, must increase nearly 13-fold to meet the estimated need in 2030.
Glimmers of Hope through Coalitions of the Willing
There are however glimmers of hope that even the watered down commitments from Glasgow will reshape the Global Agenda as coalitions of the willing continue to work on critical solutions. It is apparent that the net-zero imperative is no longer in question. Among the limited successes for SIDS to be built on are that more than 130 countries that represent more than 85% of the planet's forests pledged last week to end and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030, and more than 25 countries have so far signed on to an agreement to stop financing fossil fuel projects abroad but no mention of doing so at home.
Many of the net-zero commitments made in Glasgow came from coalitions of the stakeholders—governments, financial institutions, companies, multilateral organizations, civil society, youth and others. This is a major shift in gears among coalitions since Paris, who must participate if systemic problems are going to be solved. How can Caribbean Countries tap into these sources and/or create necessary coalitions in the region and globally are to be found in a very useful analysis of McKinsey Sustainability Report (November 12, 2021) that published a summary of five key priorities coming out of Glasgow:
Conclusions: Reimagining Climate Resilience - Building on the work of Caribbean Scientists
The big questions of financing adaptation and mitigation remain critical for SIDS and CARICOM. To what extent is the Caribbean Agenda totally dependent on external sources? Are carbon credits and carbon taxes (raised in a previous blog) viable options for reducing dependence of SIDS/CARICOM? What's to be done? .
GOFAD has previously advocated for a greater level of cooperation among Caribbean Universities to advance the Region's achieving 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Capability for intellectual leadership in these endeavours is clearly illustrated in several ways. These include the UWI Climate Studies Group referred in this blog; the Green Environment Workshop of the University of Guyana Green Institute; the UWI Resilience Network established to contribute to the sustainable and resilient development of the Caribbean; the Centennial Legacy of Agriculture at UWI St Augustine to mark 100 years of the establishment of the Imperial College Tropical Agriculture August 30, 1921, which became known as the University College of the West Indies St Augustine in 1960, the University of Guyana (Berbice) Campus Microbiology Training Workshop; and the Human Heredity Environment and Health in the Caribbean (H3EC) Initiative involved in genomics research. In addition, Vidia S Roopchand, a UG graduate lead researcher for the Pfizer COVID- 19 vaccine is an outstanding example. More than ever GOFAD reaffirms its "Random thoughts on Universities in the post COVID 19 era: Time for a regional conversation" (GOFAD Blog 4/29/21)
The 2015 Paris agreement (COP25) provides a useful benchmark by which to judge the results of COP26 in Glasgow which comes to an end the day after this blog has been posted. However, from all reports and our judgement having been part of the virtual audience at several of the main sessions and side events, the reviews of COP26 are mixed. While Greta Thunberg mocks the failure of the conference to offer concrete results as Blah, Blah, Blah, Frans Timmermans, Vice President of the European Commission and a key negotiator at COP26, optimistically pronounced that “the glass is half full”.
Recall that the 2015 Paris agreement adopted by 197 countries aimed to reduce carbon emissions and limit the increase of the global temperature to well below 2°C . Then countries committed to decarbonize their economies and build climate resilience. While Small Island Development States (SIDS) continue their chant “1.5°C to stay alive”, the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) supports their view that limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C by the end of the century is still possible, but will require rapid, immediate, and economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions, as well as the removal of carbon from the atmosphere. The conclusion to be drawn is that near-term actions to halve GHG emissions by 2030 must be pursued alongside longer-term strategies to achieve deep decarbonization by 2050.
According to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) of the 123 countries that submitted new national determined contributions (NDC) targets by October 2021, twenty two (22) including the European Union (EU) as a block submitted stronger targets while 12 did not increase ambitions. As many as 89 countries that are not analyzed by the CAT submitted NDC targets. Among them are many Caribbean, Pacific, African, South East Asian and Eastern European countries all of whom contribute minimally to GHG emissions. According to research published in Glasgow (November 9), the world is on track for disastrous levels of global heating far in excess of the limits in the Paris Climate Agreement, despite a flurry of carbon-cutting pledges from governments at the UN Cop26 summit. Temperature rises will top 2.4C by the end of this century, based on the short-term goals countries have set out.
China and USA, the world’s two biggest emitters unveiled a joint declaration for close cooperation on emissions cuts that scientists say are needed in the next 10 years to stay within 1.5C. According to the declaration, the two countries will “meet regularly to address the climate crisis and advance the multilateral process, focusing on enhancing concrete actions in this decade,”
At the same time India, the world’s third largest carbon emitter and one of the few countries is yet to announce a timeframe to reach net zero emissions. Surprisingly, because of the dominance of its coal industry, India is likely to exceed two key commitments of the Paris Agreement. First, according to Environmental Research India looks likely to reduce emissions by as much as 45 percent by 2030, far surpassing its Paris target. This is due to its pledge to increase the share of power-generation capacity from renewable, hydroelectric, and nuclear sources. The other commitment is to reduce carbon emissions by 33 to 35 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2030. Today, India is claiming the moral high ground by pointing out its per capita emissions are much lower than comparable nations and that the same rich nations that polluted their way to riches in the 19th and 20th centuries are now scolding developing countries when they follow the same route. Interestingly Vivek Wadhwa writing in Foreign Policy (October 22 2021) illustrates from empirical data that India is already far exceeding its renewable energy goals.
Climate Technology and Climate Finance Critical Indicators
These issues are indeed critical and need to be explored in greater depth than this Blog will permit. Suffice it to say that limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires far-reaching transformations across power generation, buildings, industry, transport, land use, coastal zone management, and agriculture. It also requires an immediate scale-up of technological carbon removal and climate finance.
In an interesting side event by the Commonwealth Foundation, the point of departure was that an ever-shrinking carbon budget does not accommodate delay. To reach a net-zero future, it is imperative to ignite fundamental change across nearly all systems, from how we move around the world and build cities to how we grow food and power industry. These systemwide transitions will depend on the massive scale-up of finance, technology, and capacity building for countries that need support. That the G20 countries have reneged on their pledged contribution of 100B per year since Paris erodes the trust required to propel the world’s system toward Climate justice and equity. Uncertainty about the availability of financing for innovation will limit capital formation and slow scale-up. Integrating most climate technologies into existing infrastructure, hardware, software, and operational systems is critical.
Conclusion: Changing Mindset
As COP26 enters its closing stages it is to be hoped that the chasm between aspirations and policies will narrow and that governments will change their mindset by putting global interests before national interest, thereby saving this planet from destruction. A most sanguine expression of this aspiration is provided by ,” William Nordhaus argues. “Why Climate Policy Has Failed And How Governments Can Do Better” Foreign Affairs, October 12, 2021
Greta Thunberg and the young activists took a stand with a massive demonstration in Glasgow last Friday (November 5). They continue to nudge and advocate for governments to do better After all the futures of their generation and the generations to come are high stakes.
Guyana has an excellent opportunity to be one of the best resource-rich countries. However, it needs to reorganize creative institutional approaches, while establishing and adhering to accepted principles, values and norms for achieving sustainable development. The big picture should focus on What’s the future for Sustainable Development should look like in Guyana and the Caribbean? My response assumes a long term 20-50 year perspective with emphasis on the acceleration of a low carbon and climate resilient agenda aligning oil and gas and a green economy. It straddles three areas: Governance and Institutions; Social Justice and Sustainable Business Approach.
Governance and Institution Strengthening
The overall focus ought to be on a broader sustainable development approach including the economic, social and environmental. Therefore legislative, administrative and institutional reforms are critical to effective governance towards Guyana becoming a model for climate change.
The Necessary Enabling Conditions
The development of reforms is one dimension. However, their effective implementation requires a series of enabling conditions, among them access to resources: equity, diversity, inclusivity
Greater participation and inclusion would also reduce management conflicts by fostering multi-stakeholder participation in the development of international investment agreements, not necessarily on the details but on the broad components which can include various stakeholders, for example civil society. In this regard, Canada provides a good example of devising and implementing environmental protection policies.
Sustainable Business Approach
A sustainable approach to business and investment is critical. It will need to focus on integrated policies, strategies, and programmes in the economic, social and environment approaches to sustainable development. Lessons to be learned exist in some private sector examples. These include the Business Roundtable which consists over 200 top corporations in the United States formed in 2019; United Nations Global Compact. Most appropriate however, is the CARICOM option for an energy partnership between Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname. (Please see link https://villagevoicenews.com/2021/10/28/proposed-guyana-trinidad-and-tobago-and-suriname-regional-energy-partnership/)
My response to the question -- What would you like to tell Caribbean leaders and their delegations to COP 26-- is that emphasis should be placed on:
About the author Ms. Audreyanna Thomas is Managing Director - Global Perspective Inc. (GPI) in Guyana and former steering committee member of the SIDS Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC). She has been engaged in research in foreign direct investment, cross sectoral governance, the rule of law, human rights and gender in Oil and Gas/extractive industries with special reference to Guyana’s economic transition. She holds a Bachelor’s in Communications from UG and a post graduate degree from Loyola, University Chicago and post graduate attachment to and University of Cambridge, UK.
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.