DESPITE the Government touting its achievements on the environment, past chairman of the Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay says the country’s management of the environment is only characterised “by a lot of talk”.
“We talk and we talk but when it comes down to [protecting the environment] and we have to make a decision, a hotel in the Montego Bay Marine Park, I think we are going to have another hotel in the Montego Bay Marine Park,” she said in obvious reference to the planned eleven-storey, 281-room Dreams Resort in Montego Bay — a project which is causing unease amongst residents in the second city.
“Sometimes I scratch my head because I don’t understand some of the decisions that are being made. But, one factor is short term vs long term,” McCaulay continued.
“I think decision-makers very well know the long-term implications of some of the decisions they are making are adverse, but they are more concerned about short-term things — [things like] how people in their constituencies will respond and so on.”
She said a recent study shows that most of the deforestation taking place in Jamaica is permitted. “It’s official development, it’s housing, it’s roads, it’s bauxite. It’s not people chopping down trees illegally. Most of it is official, organised and permitted development.”
Theresa Rodriguez Moodie, CEO Jamaica Environment Trust, while not addressing a specific issue outlined, “I do not think that there is a true appreciation by all for what sustainability means and why the environment is so important to our health and economic prosperity. Everything depends on a healthy environment. Unfortunately, the term sustainability and living in harmony with nature are terms that are often used loosely. Sustainability is sometimes equated with finding a compromise, and unfortunately the environment tends to be compromised the most.”
McCaulay and Rodriguez Moodie were equally scathing about Jamaica’s environmental management, pointing out that while progress has been made, much more is left to be done.
“Some think that they have to get everybody out of poverty before they start to think about the environment, and they don’t understand the connection between poor environmental management and poor economic outcomes,” McCaulay said.
“I don’t see how you can have prosperity, which is the term the current Administration likes to use, in a situation where the air quality is bad, there is not enough drinking water, and every little rain storm results in flooding because they have not paid attention to our building practices. Climate change is causing sea level rise and you can see the sea lapping on the front steps of hotels. There is food shortages and drought, and we are extremely vulnerable to hurricanes,” she added.
For her part, Rodriguez Moodie said in an email response: “The theme this year for World Environment Day 2022 is ‘Only One Earth’, with a focus on ‘living sustainably in harmony with nature’. A simple definition of sustainability is ‘meeting our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. So the question really is, in Jamaica are we living sustainably in harmony with nature?”
She pointed to examples where this is not being done.
- Permits being granted to remove mangroves and other coastal ecosystems for tourism or other coastal developments without adequate monitoring and enforcement to ensure replanting takes place
- State agencies removing trees while the Forestry Department is promoting the planting of 3 million trees in 3 years
- The Government planning to expand the extractive industry, which has been proven to be unsustainable
- The continued use of fossil fuel in our energy mix — JPS’s power plant at Hunts Bay in Kingston is proposed to run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), rather than switching to renewable forms of energy, even as oil and gas prices climb globally.
McCaulay however added that she is heartened by conversations about the environment that are now taking place, adding that in the early days, when she started public environmental advocacy 30 years ago, journalists were not interested in writing on the topic.
“I think it is a mistake to think that pressure from people is ineffective...so we as individuals have to shoulder our civic responsibilities and let our political leaders know that we care about these issues, and vote on issues. I know it is a little bit of a challenge in Jamaica because our politics is so personality-driven rather than issues-driven, but we need to start electing people who are interested in issues and try and elect them to take the issues that we care about seriously.
“The environment and climate crisis is the issue of our time, and I don’t understand the casualness with which we are destroying our one and only home place — whether that be a town, a rural village, our island, or the entire planet.”