Safeguard our land, don't trade it
A call for justice: The crisis of proposed bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country (SML 173)Thursday, December 17, 2020
The issue of justice is not solely one of distributing environmental benefits and risks in the present, but doing justice to nature to allow the sustainability of natural capital and the protection of irreplaceable resources. The knowledge that the Earth is finite and comprised of interconnected systems with thresholds of degradation beyond which restoration is irreversible is now widely accepted. The central message is that nature has an intrinsic or inherent value and that humans are part of nature, not separate from it, so that justice for the one is also justice for the other.
Based on experience, the benefits of bauxite mining in the area of the Cockpit Country in question (SML173) would undoubtedly bring some financial gain to the Government of Jamaica for 25 years. But the costs would include deforestation, loss of biological diversity in the direct line of mining and the irreversible disturbance of flora and fauna in the world-renowned caves and other physical features in the vicinity of mining; air pollution with the risk of ill health of residents in nearby villages from dust; the disturbance of in tact, viable rural communities; and the loss of local agricultural production and way of life associated with such communities.
Mining that occurred in the past was conditioned by the environmental ethic of the past. We must now be driven by the present environmental awareness and ethic, based on ecological justice, in responding to mining proposals of the present. A compromise was struck and the Cockpit Country Protected Area was designated (2017). We must now put our actions where our mouths are and protect ecosystems, rivers, watersheds, and settlements in the now-disputed part of the ecosystem as well.
The proposal to mine does not constitute sustainable development. It will further marginalise the marginalised in the area concerned. The pressing implications for ecological justice are long term and must not be missed. Alternative options — building on some of those mentioned by the community stakeholders who spoke at the meeting on December 8, 2020 — should be pursued, combining agricultural production, eco-tourism, and preserving natural heritage nationally and internationally recognised for its awesome features.
The bottom line is that none of the individuals representing the stakeholders — not Noranda Bauxite Company, Government of Jamaica, or local communities would want this devastation in their backyard or front yard. If individually we would not tolerate this intrusion, then as a Jamaican community we certainly must not. Whatever the financial gains to the Government of Jamaica that are promised over the next 25 years, this amazing environment and its communities will be destroyed for all time, and history will not judge this generation of decision-makers well.
In all conscience, we the scientists and policymakers know that this is the case. Alternatives that are just and sustainable must be developed. Please, we must nurture our communities of ecosystems and people in sustainable ways, and no longer trade our land, the bedrock of our heritage, to any outside bidders, however powerful or persuasive. From experience, we know they cannot be relied upon to operate in the long-term interests of Jamaica.
Elizabeth Thomas-Hope, DPhil (Oxon), FRGS, is professor emerita, environmental management, from The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.