Patriotism looks far into the future
Should there necessarily be a battle between those who seek Jamaica's economic development and those who seek the conservation of Jamaica's natural environment? Of course not! Both laudable goals are driven by the same patriotic spirit which seeks the best for those of us who live here; for we will never eradicate poverty from this land without substantial economic growth; yet, to eradicate poverty at the expense of the degradation of our beaches, coral reefs, wetlands, forests and rivers, and the extermination of our wildlife would be a pyrrhic achievement indeed!
This is why the world - including Jamaica - has signed on to 'sustainable development', defined as "development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". Development that is unsustainable should be eschewed. Activity that depletes or degrades natural resources to the disadvantage of future generations is being unfair to the future, and is tantamount to grand theft by this selfish generation of the patrimony of future Jamaicans. It is really underdevelopment.
Natural ecosystems perform services essential to human life - like the promotion of rainfall, the harvest of water, the purification of air and water, and coastal protection, to name a few. It is only when these natural ecosystems are absent, and therefore, not performing their functions, that we really appreciate their value.
The Jamaican Government has signed all the international treaties which commit us to sustainable development, and has written its commitment to sustainable development into innumerable policy documents. Both political parties have committed themselves to sustainable development in their various election manifestos. This should mean that those who seek Jamaica's economic development and those who seek the conservation of Jamaica's natural environment are both on the same 'sustainable development' page, and therefore, there should be no conflict.
But sadly, the battle still rages, for there are other stakeholders who are singing from a different hymn sheet. The Jamaican private sector, supposedly the drivers of the Jamaican economy, have not signed on to sustainable-development as their operating philosophy. What drives them is profit, and in their calculus, they do not account for the loss of ecosystem services which their activities may cause.
Treaty obligations require that our Government keep these private-sector interests in line with sustainable-development goals, even if they do not like it. The main mechanism for this is the project approval process, wherein investors state clearly what they want to do, and the Government reviews their application and commissions whatever scientific investigation is necessary (like environmental-impact assessments). The process of assessing an application takes time, and may not lead to approval, for if the project is deemed to be unsustainable, it should not be allowed to go ahead. But investors are impatient with this process, considering it so much humbug! They have millions (or billions) of dollars to invest, and the Government wants job creation; so what if a few 'likkle lizard' or a few birds or acres of forest have to be sacrificed in the name of jobs and profit; that's the way of the world!
Unsustainable development may have been the way of the world in the past, but the modern world is committed to sustainable development.
Over its 180-year history, this newspaper, The Gleaner, has represented well the interests of the business community. Judging by its editorial last Monday, it needs to move into the modern world. Its uncritical support for what it calls "the Goat Islands logistics hub project" is irresponsible, for even now, there is no proposal on which anyone could definitively comment, either in the positive or the negative.
In an address to Parliament on Tuesday, September 10, 2013, Minister Omar Davies announced that feasibility studies were still under way, and that "a final proposal ... would be submitted to the Jamaican Government ... by the end of April 2014. At that time, a decision will be made". Fourteen months on there is still no final proposal.
Yet The Gleaner has described those who have raised questions about the sustainability of the project as "environmental extremists". Apparently, the editor lives a sheltered life. Do Jamaican environmentalists lie down in front of bulldozers? Or chain themselves to trees? The Gleaner does not know what environmental extremism is!
Is pointing out the shallowness of the waters in Portland Bight miles out to sea (implying huge amounts of destructive dredging), substituting jingoism for science and economics? There simply isn't enough space there for any investor of whatever nationality to establish a global logistics hub; and the lack of information from the Government and from China Harbour Engineering Company only fuels speculation.
But lack of information doesn't bother The Gleaner, which has descended into name-calling to abuse those with whom it disagrees. Where does true patriotism lie?
-Peter Espeut is a sociologist. Email feedback to columns