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Silly, ignorant editorial, Don Quixote

Published:Friday | January 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM

By Peter Espeut

its editorial of January 7, 2014 'Luddites or martyrs?' The Gleaner characterises those (like myself) who oppose environmentally destructive economic activity as 'neo-Luddites'. Name-calling is a propaganda technique used in politics to avoid impartial examination of facts, and to incite fears or arouse prejudices. I cannot understand why a reputable newspaper like The Gleaner would resort to name-calling instead of rational, fact-based arguments.

But if one is going to resort to name-calling, at least one should understand the language one is using. Neo-Luddism is a philosophy opposing many forms of modern technology. According to the Second Luddite Congress (April 1996; Barnesville, Ohio) Neo-Luddism is, "a movement of passive resistance to consumerism and the increasingly bizarre and frightening technologies of the Computer Age".

Neo-Luddites destroy or abandon the use of technological equipment and advocate simple living. How does this relate to those of us here in Jamaica who are technologically savvy, who want the logistics hub but don't want it in an environmentally sensitive area?

When your intellectual stance is weak, I guess it is easier to do battle with an enemy if you caricature them and call them names. The Gleaner is doing battle with Neo-Luddites created by its own fertile imagination. Jousting at windmills, Don Quixote?

Since the 1980s, there has been an almost worldwide consensus that unrestricted global economic growth has accelerated global ecological degradation. In December 1983, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (including Jamaica) established the World Commission on Environment and Development, chaired by G.H. Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway.

The Brundtland Report, released in October 1987, coined and defined the term 'sustainable development' as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". The 2005 UN World Summit Outcome Document identifies the "interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars" of sustainable development as: economic development, social development, and environmental protection.

Sustainable development

Sustainable development as a concept, as a suite of policy prescriptions, and as an outcome, is the subject of several international treaties (all signed by Jamaica), which form the basis of broad global consensus. A commitment to sustainable development has found its way into official Jamaican national policy, and forms part of the manifestos of all major Jamaican political parties.

But The Gleaner is not part of this global consensus. In its editorial last Tuesday, The Gleaner ridicules Jamaican environmentalists for insisting that the Jamaican Government lives up to its treaty and legal obligations. "They talk frequently, for instance, of sustainable development, which usually translates to 'keep things pastoral". Don Quixote is alive!

It is actually quite a silly and ignorant claim, for no environmentalist worth their salt would wish to convert the natural environment into pasture.

China is probably the best example of unsustainable development one could find. China's economy has grown tenfold since 1978, and its focus on economic development at breakneck speed has led to widespread environ-mental degradation. Some 70 per cent of China's rivers and lakes are polluted. Sixteen of the 20 most polluted cities in the world are in China. Remember the air pollution concerns during the Beijing Olympics? In January 2013, fine airborne particulates which pose the greatest health risks, rose as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter in Beijing, compared with World Health Organisation guidelines of no more than 25. Is this the direction The Gleaner wishes Jamaica to go in?

A lot of Chinese pollution is due to the fact that China has opted for environmentally damaging coal-fired power plants as its major source of energy. China has huge reserves of coal, and expects to add about 160 new coal-fired plants to the 620 operating now, within four years.

What power source does China propose to use in its Jamaican logistics hub? Must we just accept whatever they propose without performing our own environmental due diligence? How can we accept this Chinese proposal - sight unseen - as The Gleaner suggested in its editorial of December 15 last year, just because it promises US$1.5 billion in foreign investment?

Thankfully, most Jamaicans are not blinded by investors dangling dollars before their eyes.

Peter Espeut is a development scientist and an environmentalist. Send feedback to