Sun | Sep 24, 2017

Diana McCaulay | Yes, here we go again

Published:Tuesday | August 9, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Diana McCaulay

Your columnist, Ronald Mason (Gleaner, April 7, 2016), is not the only one to think, here we go again. 'The environmentalists' think so, too.

On July 28, 2016, two govern-ment ministers called a press conference and announced a large industrial development to be powered by the most harmful of the fossil fuels - coal - in clear breach of the National Energy Policy and the commitments made by Jamaica to the Paris Agreement on climate in 2015, signed in April 2016 on Earth Day with the usual fanfare.

When this is pointed out by 'the environmentalists' - often used as an insult in Jamaica - along with the extensively documented harm to human beings by coal as a fuel source, this is what follows:

• Concerns about public health, depletion of freshwater supplies, and threats posed by coal ash waste are disparaged as 'gazing into the eyes of iguanas'.

• The tired old argument that the industrial West powered their economic growth by fossil fuels and everyone else should now be allowed to continue on that harmful path, despite the clear and present threat of the climate crisis, is trotted out. Mr Mason, Western development was based on many other atrocities - genocide, rape, theft, displacement and slavery. Do you propose those practices continue today?

• Then there will be the contention that protection of soil, sea, air, water and human health is what is causing us to be "underfed, undereducated, die early, or become disabled from poor health care". Actually, Mr Mason, it is the poorest among us who suffer disproportionately from pollution, whatever its source. The people of St Elizabeth closest to the plant will be the ones to pay the highest price.

• Mr Mason goes on to ask for polling to "get a sense of our fellow citizens' thoughts and wishes and then set policy". This assumes that everyone is fully informed about the impacts of coal-fired plants, instead of what invariably happens in public consultation processes - a slew of promises about mitigation measures to reassure those present, which are never properly implemented.

Furthermore, policy has already been set. It is written in the National Energy Policy 2009-2030 on the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology's website. Message from then Energy Minister James Robertson: "A cornerstone of this policy is diversifying our energy base. We will find new ways to power our economy and to reduce the amount of energy we use. We will explore indigenous sources of energy and clean technologies, thereby injecting life into research institutions and generating new, 'green' jobs at a time when new jobs are so sorely needed.

"This policy will also enable us to reduce pollution and thereby protect the health of all Jamaicans as they go about their daily business. It will demonstrate that Jamaica is a responsible global citizen, as we minimise our emissions of greenhouse gases, and reduce our carbon footprint." Goal 3 of the Energy Policy states: "Jamaica realises its energy resource potential through the development of renewable energy sources and enhances its international competi-tiveness, energy security whilst reducing its carbon footprint."

 

INVESTMENT DESPERATION

 

Last, the energy-supply matrix on Page 36 calls for reduced petroleum, increased natural gas and renewables and five per cent of the energy mix to come from petcoke/coal. THAT, Mr Mason, is policy.

The Government of Jamaica seems to have no new ideas about economic growth. Both parties negotiate from a position of investment desperation - a foreign investor shows up, pitches an idea, and regardless of stated policy positions, externalised costs, legal protection of areas of land and sea, long-term existential threats to Jamaica and to the entire planet, and the known inadequacies of environmental monitoring and enforcement in Jamaica, the GOJ is instantly at a head table calling a press conference to announce thousands of jobs.

When the pushback comes, it is the fault of those 'singing kumbaya and maypole dancing' who just need to get out of the way. Here we go again, indeed.

- Diana McCaulay is CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.