Tue | Jun 15, 2021

Letter of the day: Environment minister must care for environment

Published:Tuesday | February 2, 2016 | 12:00 AM


I was very surprised when Environment Minister Robert Pickersgill stated, as part of his decision to allow the Karisma Group to remove sand from Negril, that "the substantial value of the project to the Jamaican economy outweighs all other considerations". I was further saddened when he refused to recant his statement and stood by his earlier pronouncement, saying, "My conscience is clear as to what I did on behalf of the Government and people of Jamaica."

It is disheartening to know that Jamaica's environment is viewed as something that needs to be exploited at all costs while we spout rhetoric about sustainable development. Our governments have never seemed to prioritise the environment. We have allowed mining prospectors into Cockpit Country, built hotels without the necessary environmental permits, and now want to build a trans-shipment port in a marine protected area, even as we sign environmental agreements to combat climate change.

Decisions like these have always implied that our lawmakers don't understand how valuable our natural resources really are and what the impacts of unsustainable development can be.

China, for example, has become one of the world's major economic powers but at the expense of its environment. Since 1978, China's gross domestic product has grown by approximately 10% a year. However, this growth has been at the expense of its natural environment. China's air quality is so poor that 1.6 million people die a year from health problems associated with air pollution. The unchecked use of fossil fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, particularly within developed countries, has resulted in the climatic changes we are desperately trying to combat now.

We should not be striving to have uncontrolled development but to ensure that Jamaica's economy develops sustainably.


Short-sighted lawmakers


Jamaica's natural resources provide us with important goods and services daily. An Ecosystem Service Valuation of Cockpit Country, for example, estimated that the value we gain from maintaining Cockpit Country in its current state is US$29.8 million a year. This is because it provides gas and climate regulation, water filtration, mitigation from floods and droughts, soil formation and stability, crop pollination, habitat for species, and is appreciated for its aesthetic and cultural value.

However, because our lawmakers are short-sighted and don't consider the long-term effects of development, they plan to mine Cockpit Country for bauxite and limestone, destroying the very goods and services we currently receive for free.

Have we considered whether mining will actually contribute to our economy, or someone else's? Or the fact that once all the limestone and bauxite have been removed, the Cockpit Country will never be what it once was and the US$29.8 million a year we used to get in goods and services will be gone forever.

I hope that Jamaica will eventually realise that we will have to pay for decisions made in the name of development at all costs. As election day looms, I hope that regardless of which political party wins, our minister of environment is someone who will put the environment first and understand just how important his job really is.