Transport Minister Dr Omar Davies and Prime Minister Portia Simpson have effectively painted a damning portrait of environmentalists as idle, rich people with lots of time on their hands and who are committed to preserving their status quo - in the process keeping poor Jamaicans rooted at the bottom of the economic ladder.
With US$1.5 billion in investment on offer with a 'guarantee' of 10,000 jobs on offer from the Chinese, the dislocation/death of "two likkle lizards" should not even come up for consideration, according to Dr Davies. After all, we're talking about major infrastructural development, and as the goodly transport minister noted in one of his public utterances, even if these or any other group of investors were to get upset and pull out afterwards, they would have to leave the investments in place. Definitely a win-win situation for the country.Unfortunately, it is the very irreversible nature of these 'developments' that makes necessary the need for the kind of careful, detailed, objective environmental analysis for which the tree huggers and lizard lovers (myself included) are advocating. The reason is that they know and understand the importance of maintaining the biodiversity of the Goat Islands, more so for its vast economic value to the residents of neighbouring communities than do the much-heralded textbook economists now engaged in a 'let's bash the environmentalists' campaign.
They understand, even without the benefit of a promised environmental impact assessment (EIA) study, that US$1.5 billion is not worth the destruction of this environmental haven. Unfortunately, environmentalists do not have the benefit of the many propaganda platforms to which politicians are entitled. And it is unlikely they would use them for spreading the misinformation which has been the hallmark of a coordinated effort by Dr Davies and other high-ranking party faithful to browbeat us tree huggers into submission.
In addition, their success at making out environmentalists to be anti-development and anti-progressive has gained traction in many quarters, with Everald Warmington, in whose constituency the Goat Islands fall, as well as Spanish Town Mayor Norman Scott, hailing the proposal as well needed.
That Jamaica is in desperate need of investment is beyond question, but it does not have to come at the cost of the environment. Unfortunately, the Pied Piper, Dr Davies, aided and abetted by high-ranking Comrades, some posing as columnists, have succeeded in getting the public to believe that environmentalists are fundamentally opposed to development and that the two concepts - investment and environmental preservation - are diametrically opposed.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and the Government needs to recognise this if it is serious about making Jamaica the place of choice to live, work and raise families by 2030. Detractors often point to the dictatorial rule of Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew as the price the Asian country paid for achieving its strong economic status.
They often point to its high per-capita income without any reference to the fact that it is one of the world's cleanest, greenest, safest and most liveable cities. This is not a result of happenstance but, rather, careful, deliberate, strategic planning which recognised the intricate relationship between the natural and built environments.
SIMILAR CHALLENGESAmong the many challenges facing Singapore at the time of political independence in 1965 were high unemployment and limited job opportunities (sounds familiar?), with an economy dependent on port, trade and services.
However, when it opted to build a manufacturing sector, the government was determined to industrialise without polluting the environment and, to this end, established an anti-pollution unit (would you believe it?) in the prime minister's office.
"Any investment proposal deemed pollutive, the said unit was turning down. This was a courageous policy at a time when Singapore was in desperate need of investment and jobs," Professor Tommy Koh, the country's ambassador-at-large, told the legal and technical commission of the International Seabed Authority on July 10 at a meeting in Jamaica this year.
Today, Singapore has one of the busiest ports in the world, but its marine environment is in excellent condition, even though its beaches are crowded with families on weekends. Some 270 species of hard coral and 111 species of reef fishes are on record, as revealed by a recent audit of its marine biodiversity.
Another important chapter of its success story is the Singapore Cooperation Programme, under which some 80,000 government officials from 170 countries have been trained in areas such as public administration, economic development, port management, civil aviation and water management.
"The programme is founded on our experience on how, with sound advice, a small country with little or no natural resources can build up institutions not only to survive but also to thrive and prosper," Professor Koh told the meeting in Jamaica.
This is a lesson that needs to be shared - in all its details - with the current and aspiring occupants of the George William Gordon Houses of Parliament.
Among the first cohort of students should be Dr Davies, Prime Minister Simpson Miller, Environment Minister Bobby Pickersgill and, most definitely, Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, whose recent fact-finding mission to the Goat Islands, media in tow, makes a mockery of the hard work put in over the years by people such as Dr Karl Aiken, Professor Dale Webber, his wife Professor Mona Webber, Dr Ann Sutton, Dr Brandon Hay, and Ingrid Parchment.
These are people who know, understand and appreciate - much more than our textbook economists - the real value of all the bush, dirty water, insects, lizards and other occupants of the Goat Islands.
They are aware that the world is losing its biological diversity at 1,000 times the rate of normal extinction, which is leading to not only the loss of important species of flora and fauna but entire ecosystems as well. They know, unlike the occupants of Gordon House, the long-term implications for small island developing states like Jamaica.
They understand that development does not have to be at the expense of the environment, and that sound environmental practices actually enhance the built environment.
Dr Davies seems convinced that devastation of our natural resources, by design rather than default - which is going to happen anyway - is the preferred route he posits, and so goes into oversimplification mode in order to garner support from the man in the street. His reference to the mere dislocation of "two likkle lizards" as the price for attracting this godsend of US$1.5 billion is the height of intellectual dishonesty.
Were the transport minister so inclined, he could consult with members of the Caribbean Coastal Management Foundation, who would tell him what he already knows: that an estimated 40 per cent of the global economy is based on biological products and processes. And how poor people, the ones living in abject poverty which he claims will drive them to destroy the environment in order to survive anyway, depend especially heavily on its genetic diversity for their daily bread.
The promise of a study on the likely impact of the proposed development project to be completed by month end gives me little hope that objective analysis will be done, given the short time frame. Especially given that despite the 2,000 years since Judas Iscariot set the standard for selling out, 30 pieces of silver still goes a far way.
Christopher Serju is a journalist who covers
rural development and agriculture. Email feedback to