Do you intend to help, Senator?

Letters to the Editor

Do you intend to help, Senator?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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Dear Editor,

It is amazing, to say the very least, just how much we know about the factors affecting our environment. Yet, with all the knowledge that has been garnered over the years, we see successive government administrations continuing to act as if we do not have a wealth information that can be used in decision-making regarding our environmental assets.

I write this letter to underscore the apparent disregard and specious nature of the position held by one particular Government senator regarding the ongoing discussions about bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country. Following a recent Twitter post by the Jamaica Environment Trust with the hashtag #SaveCockpitCountry, government senator Robert Nesta Morgan replied, “Your hashtag says #SaveCockpitCountry which intimates that the Cockpit Country is being destroyed. That is what I am seeking clarity on. Who is destroying it?”

There are two things that can be said about the senator's utterance. He is either unfit to speak on the issues due to a lack of knowledge, or the incapacity to understand the true nature of environmental reactions to external stimuli, or he simply does not care.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), in its 2013 State of the Environment Report, cited bauxite mining as a major threat to the environment as it relates to forest degradation on the grounds of removal of forest cover, threats to water quality, and biodiversity. All these threats do not remain as local negative impacts; they can have severe negative effects far outside of the immediate zone of the activity. In highlighting pressures and threats currently being faced by Jamaica's forests as a part of their 'Land Use Cover Assessment for the 2012-2013', NEPA said, in no uncertain terms, that bauxite mining, which requires the removal of forests before the ore can be extracted, is a threat to our environmental assets and services. NEPA continued in the report to tell us that: “When this removal occurs in areas of native limestone forest (such as in the Cockpit Country) the impact can be highly detrimental to biodiversity and to the quality of groundwater. Furthermore, following mine closure, the area may only be grassed or restored with non-native trees.”

It is against this background, and with knowledge of the interconnectivity of our water resources, biodiversity, and heritage, that we as environmental practitioners say that bauxite mining is an unsustainable environmental practice. The idea of unsustainability seemed to have been lost on the good senator as he continued with the tweets:

@NestaJA - “No to all Bauxite Mining” *Tweeted from a computer made with aluminium component. *Tweeted using electricity from a powerplant built by mined bauxite products. Absolutism doesn't make sense.

@NestaJA - X: Save the CockpitCountry!!!! Y: Who is destroying the cockpit County? X: Well... Aaah... no to Bauxite Mining!!! Y: But you are tweeting from a device with aluminium. X: Well... You can recycle aluminum Y: yes but how do you get it in the first place? X:..

While we can appreciate the senator's tweets are his own and may not reflect the view of the entire Government, we must stop to question how the narrative he creates fits into the overall picture of governance. And it is quite daunting if this is how we engage the public on such significant and controversial matters that will affect us. We must seek to address this issue and quell the tensions, allaying all public fears by taking a decision that is in the long-term interest of the entire country. We must address this with strong policies that allow the regulators to do what they were established to do.

The politics must be removed from decision-making regarding our environmental assets as there are examples to be cited globally of significant national challenges when we ignore the experts just to exercise political will.

Mario Christie

Director of Research & Policy

Jamaica Climate Change Youth Council

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