Green Voices of T&T- Masaō Ashtine

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Benjamin Franklin

There is something magical about spending time outdoors in nature. It centers you, relaxes your spirit, clears your mind and most importantly brings you joy. Masaō Ashtine, a 31 year old Trini can 100% relate to this as he grew up always eager to be outdoors in nature. Masaō always had a keen interest in exploring his environment. Whether it was playing at the parks, camping with family, swimming at the beach or enjoying a hike, as long as it was outside, he was ready for action. Trinidad’s beautiful landscapes definitely inspired his love of nature but it wasn’t until he was exposed to earth documentaries on television that he fell head over heels in love with the earth and knew this was his calling. He was completely blown away by all of earth’s glories and from that moment onward he was on a mission to find his role in the environmental sciences field because according to him, this was his destiny.

Masaō grew up in the valleys of Diego Martin, Trinidad surrounded by lush green forest and views of the Gulf-of-Paria. Often he and his dad would go camping across Trinidad, an activity he religiously looked forward to. His camping adventures continued during his secondary school years when he joined the Scouts Association at the Queen’s Royal College (QRC). Here he was able to blend the knowledge he obtained from his father and marry the two, further enhancing his skills and his love of the outdoors. 

After succeeding at the CSEC examinations, Masaō journeyed across to St Joseph’s Convent Port-of-Spain where he obtained all one’s for CAPE in Chemistry, Biology and Geography. This led to his open scholarship from the government of Trinidad and Tobago as well as a full scholarship from York University, Canada. Canada was not always the end goal for him, but after weighing his options the country provided him with the most opportunities. From 2007-2011 he completed his BSc in Environmental Science with Specialised Honours. 

Throughout his undergraduate years he experienced many trying moments as he continuously strived to uphold the conditions of his scholarship which required him to have an A average in all of his subjects. He recalls one term receiving a B in one of his courses and freaking out not because of the grade itself, but more so because it meant that his academic journey might be coming to an end. He had not come from a family of wealth and according to Masaō it was either a scholarship or nothing. While the grade did not impact his GPA significantly, the experience reminded him that he had to continuously remain on his P’s and Q’s. Although he was heavily fixated on his grades he soon realised there was a need for him to establish a balance as his constant desire to uphold a perfect GPA resulted in him neglecting other aspects of his university experience.  

During his degree he took on an internship in one of his bucket list countries, Costa Rica, and completed two field courses, one in Belize where he worked on mangrove restoration and the other in the Bahamas where he looked at coral reef restoration. He also took on the role as a Resident Assistant (Don) working during orientation week and welcoming new students to the campus for 4 years. For Masaō, it was all about time management and gaining the right balance between academia, work and his social life. 

After completing his undergraduate degree he obtained a full scholarship from York University to complete his Masters. He completed a MSc in Geography with a special focus on climate modelling for wind energy systems. At this point Masaō was starting to fall into his niche of renewable energy. Guided by his undergraduate thesis supervisor Rick Bello, he had found his passion and now considers himself an energy meteorologist though his work continuously expands into new territory. 

If you had asked me at the start of my undergraduate degree what field I would be in I would never have said renewable energy, but after my undergraduate degree and collecting data for Ontario’s first potential small wind turbine testing facility for my masters thesis something clicked and everything fell into place for me.” – said Masaō. 

After his masters Masaō was encouraged to complete his PhD through words of wisdom from his father. While pursuing a PhD was never his plan however his father believed that in order for him to become a leader in environmental academia he needed his PhD to truly strengthen his skills. The Department of Geography (Centre of Atmospheric Sciences) at Cambridge University became his home for three years. Here he researched climate modelling for the wind energy sectors of the United Kingdom and Trinidad and Tobago. This took true commitment and passion from him but he had found his calling, and with that found the motivation to push himself to achieve. 

“I am grateful for the guidance from my parents. It was 100% the right decision to complete my PhD. Although this was my calling, a PhD is not necessarily the end goal for success, and there are unconventional pathways that will allow you to fulfil your dreams. A PhD takes deep commitment, so if this is the path you are interested in you must be 200% ready to fully invest your time and energy into it or else you may end up regretting your decision.” says Masaō.

During his PhD programme he became a consultant for Cambridge Connect consulting on the feasibility of bringing light-rail to historic Cambridge and later went on to become a wind resource modelling Intern at 3E in Brussels, Belgium. After the completion of his PhD he married his secondary school sweetheart and sought employment in Jamaica where he became a lecturer in Renewable Energy at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. 

Installation of Solar powered water extractors (from air humidity) at the UWI Mona Hospital

Throughout his academic career he faced several issues when it came to accessing information related to the Caribbean and this led to the idea of the Journal of CESaRE. He felt that organisations housing research in the Caribbean region seemed dated and in need of revamping, and knew that there was a need to modernise environmental research in the region to inspire pride in our work and allow us to share our knowledge with the international academic community. While this idea originated during his Masters, after his PhD the idea was cemented. However, the thought of starting the Journal burdened him with anxiety and fear; he was stepping out of his comfort zone and was therefore doubtful. With time however, he dug deep, trusted himself and his vision and took a leap of faith. At that moment he also knew if he was going to succeed with CESaRE, he needed to get the right people on-board.

The Journal of CESaRE was legally incorporated in 2017 and aims to create a centralised platform for Caribbean and international citizens to access Caribbean-based research on the Environmental Sciences and Renewable Energy. The team works closely with regional leading organizations and research bodies to create open-access publications and innovative products to spread information. 

The Journal is jointly run by Masaō and three other passionate environmentalists, Stephanie Gittens, Micheal de Souza and Sasha Jattansingh, who work assiduously to make CESaRE the region’s leading house of academia and industry knowledge sharing.  

Since their incorporation in 2017, CESaRE has made many strides in the world of academic publishing and online communications, opening closed-access research in the region. If you are interested in learning more about environmental or energy issues and research in the region then CESaRE is the place to start! They have successfully launched their Peer- Reviewed Academic Journal, CESaRE Impacts (an environmental magazine series), CESaRE Minute Briefs (1-minute educational videos), CESaRE Webinar Series and CESaRE Voices (a podcast series). CESaRE is not stopping there, the organisation continues to grow and has many products and services in the works to continue transforming research dissemination in the region. 

Don’t just take my word for it check out their latest podcast episode on Podbean discussing Coronavirus and Caribbean Resilience and decide for yourself.

Episode 17 – The Loss and Damage Fund CESaRE Voices

This episode unpacks a key outcome of the COP27 in Egypt – The Loss and Damage Fund (LDF). Jelani is joined by members of the Climate Analytics Caribbean team who were present at the COP27. Director Rueanna Haynes and Project Officer Chealief LeeWing help us to unpack what the LDF means for the Caribbean region from policy-makers to the general public, what opportunities it provides, and how it fits into the broader battle against Climate Change for Small Island Developing states. Rueanna recounts the long journey that lead to the landmark agreement as a seasoned COP negotiator. Chealief shares his experience as a first-time COP attendee and gives a compelling account of what transpires behind the scenes. We discuss the road ahead for the LDF and how it will be realized in the region. Credits: This episode was narrated and produced by Jelani Blake, and curated with support from Dr. Ariel T. Thomas. Thank you to the team at Climate Analytics Caribbean.
  1. Episode 17 – The Loss and Damage Fund
  2. Episode 16 – Sustainable Design
  3. Episode 15 – Sustainable Development and Education
  4. Episode 14 – Electrification and Renewables mean security
  5. Episode 13 – Caribbean Sustainable Finance. What does it mean for us?

Masaō is still juggling his commitments and abilities to sustain and grow CESaRE, however,  sustainable development issues are pertinent in the region and this is his way of being the change he wants to see in this world.  

We can’t rely on people having intuitive environmental knowledge because that’s not the case, there needs to be a lot of public engagement and knowledge sharing before you slowly see change. We must engage all parties and bring the right people to the table to implement our way forward. This is where CESaRE comes in, we are bridging the gap!” says Masaō. 

For Masaō, CESaRE isn’t just an acronym but also a word (though spelled differently) that was used in ancient Rome to represent leadership which correlates with the organisation’s goals as they strive to be regional leaders. Despite the hurdles, self doubt, and financial challenges, he works with an amazing and supportive team of Directors and Interns, and he is determined to see CESaRE succeed. As an NGO, the organisation is built on donations from people who believe in their cause, so if you are interested in learning more about CESaRE and would like to contribute, feel free to visit their website, check out their products and make a donation

Although Masaō has a lot on his plate he still finds downtime to spend with his wife or go backpacking. He is a fearless adventurer that has been backpacking all across the world but his absolutely favourite spot on this planet is the ever so stunning Isle of Skye in Scotland. Here he is able to unwind, distance himself from the hustle and bustle of his everyday life and fully enjoy everything this remote environment has to offer. He has been there several times in his life but one of his most memorable moments thus far was waking up around 3 am to a brutal hail storm, and a capsised tent which was inundated with approximately two inches of water as a nearby lake flooded its banks. To get to safety he and his friend had to walk 15 km during the storm with winds at 60 mph. I personally don’t know how they made it but they were able to eventually get to safety and continue their backpacking adventures. 

As Masaō continues on his life’s journey one of the biggest misconceptions he is trying to break is our need to presently fully divest in oil without proper considerations in place. As a renewable energy expat he is constantly faced with this argument.  

We need to stay away from using blanket statements, or saying things like “get rid of fossil fuels” or “the Caribbean needs 100% renewable energy” without fully understanding what that means. Take the time to understand what it takes to get renewable energy or understand that renewable energy is not always available when we need it because it is highly dependent on factors such as sunlight or wind. What we need is a diversity of energy systems, which in the short-term, will need to include conventional fuel systems. We are not going to lose the grip on oil anytime in the very near-future, therefore, instead of divesting in oil companies completely we should force them to change their portfolio by diversifying it and investing in those companies that are transitioning to renewable technologies.100% renewable energy should not be the aim for any and every country without understanding  the massive efforts needed to achieve this prospect. If oil were to disappear tomorrow economies would completely crash, life as we know it would be drastically changed and millions would face difficult futures. Trust me, I am no proponent of oil-based solutions but we must also recognize that if we get rid of this industry and economies fall, how can we promote environmental stewardship when people are suffering? There are always two sides to the coin and the world’s energy is not black and white. On the other hand, climate change is real and it is forcing us to take stock of our efforts. It is constantly presenting itself in horrific ways and we must press forward to accelerate innovation in our sustainable development to mitigate and adapt to an increasingly changing climate.”  – says Masaō

To the younger generation Masaō’s message to you is simple-  

Do not follow trends for following trends sake. Follow research. We, myself included can often fall into the trap of ‘slacktivism’ (the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment). Attending a climate march and posting it on Instagram is one thing but afterwards what are you doing? Are you writing your Ministers? Are you planting trees or investing in reafforestation projects? Are you taking things one step further than social media? I want to encourage each and every one of you reading this to recognise that your lifestyle was built on a certain dependence on fossil fuels and I am not saying we need to rest on our laurels because of this, but we need to fully engage ourselves with the information out there to ensure that our future has greener foundations. The only way you are going to create change is if you equip yourself with knowledge because if you aren’t educated, you can be easily manipulated and this does not allow you to truly fight for our most pressing issues and for our most vulnerable communities. Knowledge is undeniable power!”  

For more on Masaō you can follow him on Linkedin

Check out his research on Researchgate 

To stay up-to-date with CESaRE you can follow them on Instagram , Facebook, Podbean and Youtube 

“A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself”- Franklin D Roosevelt
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