by Clairmont Chung
Saving our environment is much more than carbon emissions and global warming. That is part of it. But environment is foremost about the quality of our lives. Developed nations convene global summits to discuss acceptable levels of carbon emissions and then promptly ignore any recommendations. Similarly, they either ignore even UN sponsored conferences on racism or attend and then walk out i. The result is the same because the attitude is the same. The attitude is the same because the subject matter is related and born of the same history. The quality of our lives gives way to profit. The result is a continuing attack on our environment. Environmental degradation and oppression is immediate family.
The level of particulates in the atmosphere matters little to the average citizen. For the majority of the world, environment is about the bars on our windows and alarms on our homes. Its about failing schools and healthcare. It's about expanding prisons. Its about water, Its about food and fuel. It's jobs. It's about police brutality. It's about violence in general, domestic, sexual, racial and ethnic. It is suicide. It's about plastic in our drains and now our veins. It's about animals and plants. It's about immigration and deportation. It's about us, humanity. It's about the whole thing and not just global warming.
I deliberately left a few topics like crime, poverty, and health care out of this essay. This is intended as the first in a series of essays to introduce what is missing from the conferences and debates. People are missing as well as the day to day struggle of real families to survive and to connect and see the relationship of that struggle with environmental chauvinism.
It is foolish to reduce and isolate all that is wrong with our environment to increased levels of carbon emissions. It is much more complex because people are more complex. The basic science on climate change is that increased levels of carbon emissions trap heat against the entire planet. That heat is referred to as global warming and results in climate changes that include the extremes of weather and climate. Just as it is foolish to reduce environment to climate change, it is foolish to solve global warming by addressing it in one part of the world.
Nevertheless, here, I offer a few notes towards our need to develop policy in the Caribbean that would address the regional environment in a holistic way. I use Caribbean examples because I know it best and we cannot wait on developed nations. It does not preclude others from adopting similar applications. Climate change is happening everywhere.
|USS Constitution,commissioned 1797, powered by renewable wind|
energy similar to ships involved in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and
later protected the institution of slavery.(c)rootsandculture
It is not comprehensive because its an invitation for further development. Moreover, I am no expert. I have chosen a few of the pillars we need to rebuild. Caribbean nations need to begin action on solutions, now. The smog of profits has blinded developed nations so that they cannot see its in their self-interest to reduce carbons: at least not in the interest of the corporations and the military machines that dominate their decision making. They say the right things but do little. And Caribbean nations appear bound in the same seemingly inescapable web.
Where we cannot convince developed nations, or our governments, of their folly, the people need to move. The threat to the environment is not from some stranger. It is not just rising average temperatures and water levels. A fixed number limit for emissions may be exact for scientists. But to the average person, it is abstract. Its is powerful, armed, people that raise the planets temperature. These powerful forces and their armies contribute the most to global warming, overheating our planet, corralling already scarce resources, and overheating people's attitudes to each other. That will remain so until ordinary people move extraordinarily and demonstrate a greater power.
The Caribbean survived the worst environmental disruption and disaster since the ice age: the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The forced migration of millions of people from Africa, and their introduction to a 'new' world, disrupted the environment of both worlds. That experiment fueled industrialization and began the process of environmental degradation on a grand scale. That has not stopped.
People were capitalized for the first time. They were made part of the balance sheet. Since that time, it is indisputable that the goal is to capitalize everything: including the environment. Resistance and resilience transformed the relationship between captive and captor. Expressions of will and new forms of political organization and culture retook some humanity. So, our children today could look back and marvel about how their ancestors survived that environmental disaster.
However, an attitude that privatizes and commodifies everything has replaced the slave system. We face the same dilemma. We are still on the balance sheet but not listed among the assets. We are an expense. Everything that secures our life is expressed in terms of cost. Even culture and political expression is on sale. The environment is on sale.The same resistance and resilience showed then, should now inspire a regional plan for development that our children's children would inherit. The alternative is too grotesque to consider.
Indigenous communities on both sides of the Atlantic bore the brunt of the out and in-flux of people and still today suffer disproportionately from the environmental abuse of continued occupation. It was not just the capitalization of humans but the capitulation of some. That has to change.
The now developed countries that initiated the slave trade, initiated much more. They initiated an attitude that remains. Its these same developed countries that initiated and benefited from that environmental disaster. It was people-made: inhuman treatment of humans by humans. It is time we solve the socio-economic consequences of that disaster; Reparations and repatriation is a must.
|Traffic jam, Trinidad&Tobago|
(c)Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz
So, its not the inevitability of a changing climate we are fighting. We are fighting a climate of profit-making at all cost. We know this because whenever we attempt to fight the tools and effects of climate change, we are met, not by hurricanes, excessive heat, cold, pollution, floods, landslides and drought; but by blue uniforms, with plastic shields, water cannons and bullets.
Today, in the Caribbean we are still struggling more than most to design cities to cope with population explosions that are a direct result of the effects of that trade in humans, its evolution into industrialization, and now the age of technology. Add to that the indentured servants from Asia and Europe. So, it is with this backdrop that I offer some suggestions to arrest the continuing degradation of our lives. Though some suggestions may seem harsh, perhaps radical, lets focus on the possible benefits. Business as usual, is not acceptable.
Transportation is a multi faceted problem. It covers automobiles, trains, planes and boats as well as non motorized vehicles. I only address automobiles and trains here, because automobiles are the single largest contributor to carbon emissions in the Caribbean. Consequently, I deal with roads and energy which is connected to cars because of the family of fossil fuels they share. As a start, Caribbean nations should ban the use of the private automobile. Its an imperative.
This is not a plan to reduce global warming. It may. But its nothing so mystical. Reducing carbon emissions in a few small Caribbean countries will have little effect on the global problem, unless the industrialized countries follow suit. Instead, our goal is to reduce the probability of our own early carbonization. In other words it is to delay our collective extinction from localized environmental problems. Let the larger look about themselves. At least we would disappear fighting and finding a way. There is no reason a country where you can walk its length in a day, or two, or three, should have cars and certainly not private cars. We have an alternative. We need train systems like yesterday.
Cuba seemed to have survived without 'cars'. Though that may be changing, almost none of its citizens could afford the cars in downtown showrooms. This is not a commentary on the Cuban experiment or its levels of human rights. There are sufficient commentaries elsewhere for people to make an assessment. The car is not a human right. And I am not suggesting we walk the length of our countries.
|Traffic Jam Kingston, Jamaica (c) Gleaner|
It is a price we all pay whether we own cars or not. The waste generated from automobiles has to be cleaned by us. It is recycled through our trees, water, and our own bodies. It is toxic to life. We all suffer the consequences. It is the least efficient means of moving people.We could iron-out the details elsewhere, but agree that something drastic must be done. This is to induce a regional discussion. Confrontations are already increasing: as it should.
The reality is that recent UN numbers, 2013, show transportation including trains, cars, boats, and planes, account for 23 percent of the global carbon emissions. The world's car population is expected to triple by 2050 with the sharpest growth, 80 percent, in developing countries ii. They are talking about us. It is a question of intent, underdeveloped versus developing, but we would not quibble here. Yet, The UN does not suggest curtailing automobile use only fossil fuel use. There is a difference. It does not challenge car manufacturers and car culture.
It does suggests, as do I, differently powered vehicles (DPVs -my term-): methane, natural gas, and electricity among others. However, I differ from the UN in that though DPVs may reduce emissions, they still present a danger to life and limb. And that is what environment ought to be about. The operation of an electric automobile is still a physical danger. Fewer emissions is not the goal. Its broader and deeper. The goal should be to protect life: the people here and now, their quality of life and those to come.
The environmental disruption caused by the trans-Atlantic trade in humans was achieved largely with the help of renewable energy for transportation:the wind. So, yes real renewable energy need to be emphasized, but more important we have to begin to change our approach to people and resources. Renewables alone won't do it. You can very easily use renewable energy to transport people to their deaths or poisons for them to consume. You may have saved the environment, but for whom.
In addition, while ethanol powered vehicles offer less emissions, ethanol's manufacture is as environmentally unfriendly as gasoline. Ethanol requires large tracts of land. Land grabs result. Huge amounts of water is diverted, fertilizers and pesticides added, then released back to us. Studies have shown it to be no net gain. Its really a minus.
Of course, fracking is increasingly used for mining natural gas which leads to groundwater contamination and possibly earthquakes. My contention is that, in every respect, the safest car is a train.
I don't anticipate a blanket, and immediate, ruling on automobiles or the internal-combustion engine. This would be phased-in, but the private automobile can be immediately curtailed and eventually eliminated. The automobile has nothing to do with any fundamental right to freedom of movement or any other right. In fact, it is a real public hazard.
If we needed a right that should guide policy it is the right to life. This view localizes the solution and gives us a kind of control. One need only look at the number of road fatalities in the Caribbean to realize the costs. According to Sharon Inglefield, President the NGO Arrive Alive Trinidad and Tobago was ranked 15th highest (globally) in road fatalities and injuries. She added that, “.....with at least 7,000 injuries from 2001 to 2011. The estimated cost of these accidents was around US$480 million.”iii Over half the victims were below 25 years old and this is repeated throughout the region.
(Of note Guyana's rate is twice that of the US)
Annual Road Fatalities per
Trinidad and Tobago
We are not talking about indirect deaths from breathing disorders or ailments from pollution accumulating, not only in the atmosphere but, in our bodies. We are talking about broken bodies and dreams. If you are market-driven then you should appreciate the cost of investment and hours of production lost to accidents through fatalities and casualties. Overwhelmingly, it's the very young. The World Health Organization (WHO) figures show 1.3 million road related deaths worldwide and 90 percent occur in developing countries iv. I believe they count China and India as developing. But get the whole picture. It is more than deaths by malaria. Yet, Bill Gates is in Africa fighting malaria. Certainly in Jamaica, Barbados and St. Vincent and the Grenadines more people die in road accidents than from malaria.
Neither Gates nor Margaret Chan the Director General at WHO talks about reducing cars or connects the deaths to environment. Instead, Chan says, “Road traffic crashes are a public health and development crisis”v. She is correct but never mentions environment. How could the car's emissions be environment, but direct death and injury be public health or development? It is because environment is death from emissions, global warming, and not the tools that increase global warming and climate change. To do so would require a confrontation with manufacturers. Are we supposed to penalize the user and not the manufacturer when we use bad medicine?
Environmental policy is strategically divorced from saving the whole human. The human is dismembered into parts with each dismember caused by a different source. Development is that ever present code word for the expansion of capitalism. Add the cost of medical care to that number. It is a drag on development, but great for capital invested in healthcare. And that is only the human toll.
The UN often makes my points better that me. It says, “But the very success of our civilization risks disrupting the climate that has served us so well until now.”.vi This is the International Panel on Climate Change replete with Nobel prized scientists. 'Until now'? Its the same as Director General Chan saying its public health and development.
Civilization and development is used interchangeably. They are seen as good things and to avoid challenging the construct though it has resulted in climate change as well as a public health crisis. We need to adopt the understanding that this is not development. The victims of 'civilization' know better.
We have signed on to the neo-liberal model of development, which is really growth, and not development. It is growth without development as explained by economist, Manfred Max-Neef. But with growth comes consequences. Bones weaken and break with uncontrolled human growth.vii Though as humans we stop growing, at least vertically, we continue developing. The automobile symbolizes that unending economic growth, All the rest of the environment is our bones. We end-up with a kind of socio-economic obesity while simultaneously suffering from malnutrition.
If we add the illness from pollution, the death and destruction from accidents, and the hours lost from traffic and injury we see a pattern of human degradation. The hours of work needed to pay the compound interest to foreign manufacturers, the hours lost sitting in traffic in any major Caribbean city drain and drag our economies.
Imagine Marcus Garvey Drive in Kingston or Wrightson Road in Port of Spain between 3 pm and 8 pm. Imagine Trinidad's Solomon Hochoy Highway between 7 am and 10 am or Demerara's East Bank at the same times. You leave work at 5 pm and arrive home at 8 pm: later sometimes. It is estimated the average Trinidadian spends 4 hours commuting daily. How often have we sat in a vehicle, in the capital cities of underdeveloped nations, with your destination in full view, and not be able to get to it? Its ludicrous. To plan more roads for more cars is insane. We cannot afford the car.
Should one of those tragic life-claiming accidents occur during your travel, your time on the road is further extended. I was sitting in a car on the Solomon Hochoy Highway on my way to Princess Town, South Trinidad the day Maestro died:that extraordinarily talented singer, songwriter. I believe it was 1977. We were inching along. The trip took three times as long. I never knew much about Maestro until after that day and realized we lost a real valuable and sensitive contributor to our culture.
Then more recently Onika Bostic died at 25 years old. These are just our celebrities. There are thousands of others across the region. Its an equal opportunity killer and cares little about race, class and reputation. In 40 years it has only gotten worse and the human cost is incalculable.
Train travel is a must. In the smaller islands a light rail may be more suited. It would run on elevated lines so as not to disrupt existing homes and farms. But the goal is to move people and goods to their destinations quickly, safely, and cheaply. The light rail we see at airports in developed nations could be used in the Caribbean and be extended to the entire island. As an example, St. Vincent and the Grenadines' Argyle International Airport, now under construction, should have a train system that extends to the entire island. Otherwise, we will have the same frantic traffic moments to and from most regional airports.
|Rendition of China's Maglev |
More so in larger countries, like Guyana and Haiti, a train is even more crucial: commuter trains and cargo trains, but differently powered (DPVs). The Caribbean like most colonial constructs did have trains. They were built by the empires to facilitate the extraction of resources both human and raw materials. It was not designed for people. People were incidental. To the extent people mattered, it was to bring them from the plantation areas where they still lived to their jobs in the town.
Those trains too costly to repair and maintain were scrapped on the advice of empire at the end of official empire: at independence. As it turned out, this was to facilitate their automobiles which was a greater benefit to colonial power: to empire's ends. The cost of petroleum was lower then. Once, sufficiently entrenched, up came the oil crisis and oil prices. There seems to be no crisis now. Oil is flowing. But prices never returned. The developed nations kept their trains and are building more. Lets change that dynamic. Build trains for our development and to secure our commuting public.
End the use of private cars to reduce oil dependence and redirect savings to more sustainable approaches to transportation and energy. Redesign living space without the car as central. The bus, by itself, will not solve the problem. Without a train system buses add to the congestion. Its a case where not enough is worse than too little. What I am saying is nothing novel. Developed nations are talking about this and research is available. I am trying to adopt it to an environment in crisis and one I know a little about.
In Guyana, after a hundred years of the automobile, people still live largely on its coast. And to a lesser extent, they live on its rivers. This is true for most countries. Except where we were hiding from slave traders. The indigenous nations are an example. These inhabited places follow the route drawn by the now abandoned trains that have been retraced by roads and marked by traffic congestion and dangerous minibuses. It is of little usefulness now, to argue about the local reasoning behind decommissioning trains. I suspect, anyway, they would have been a drag on economy based on old design, spare parts and fuel needs: coal and diesel.
So the automobile has not distributed population in ways envisioned. All the automobile did was to expand the limits of the city:and brought congestion, pollution, death and constant physical danger. Its the premier health hazard in the Caribbean and a drain on the economy. Its not like gun violence. When bodies are not dropping it does not mean all is well.
Developed nations dominate the language on our environment and have managed to reduce the debate to global warming and carbon emissions. Yet, after reducing the language. they have not made any meaningful attempts to the required change in behavior. They still walk out of talks and threaten smaller nations with reductions in aid. Then fly home in private jets. Everything is a reduction. But environment is much more than that.
Roads are a deadly subset to transportation and this is separate and apart from cars though related. Cars need roads and this usually means asphalt. Asphalt is petroleum. More roads in urban and suburban communities is proven to bring more cars, not less congestion. Marketing the automobile has had global success where the middle class is now defined by the car. Roads and cars work as a tag team for the victory of the petroleum industry.
Less roads and alternative DPVs equal less cars and can increase the middle class with longer hours at work. Even the UN report by its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said, “In least developed countries, prioritizing access to pedestrians and integrating non‐motorized and public transport services can result in higher levels of economic and social prosperity”viii. More trains, bicycle lanes and an on-time public transportation system is the future.
Asphalt and more fossil fuels are expensive and indestructible as well as destructive. Roads are expensive to build and maintain. The retrieval and manufacture of asphalt increases pollution of water and land. Its use increases carbon and surface temperatures which warm the atmosphere. The heat it generates affects local weather by increased evaporation which result in periods of heavy rains, extreme heat and later drought.
The recent floods and landslides in St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada would not have been as destructive without increased population in these areas and along with the roads that accompany people. It swept away roads, bridges and people. Roads are seen as vulnerable flood zones because they provide a path for water to run-off but with no obstacles to slow and absorb the force.
Had there been elevated trains the damage would have been minimized. The land and tree clearing would have been less and the transportation would not be as badly affected. Other islands were subject to lesser damage but the whole Caribbean is vulnerable. The trees, plants and grasses that once held the sides of the hills together have been removed for development. This means roads and buildings and more landslides.
The UN'six recent numbers project a rise in average global surface temperature of 9 degrees centigrade by the end of the century. Asphalt is not the biggest factor. Carbon emissions own that distinction. But we have to see one as a factor of the other. Imagine, Georgetown, Port-Au-Prince, Kingston or Bridgetown 9 degrees hotter between noon and 2 pm. You would not be able to walk, drive or ride on asphalt or on concrete. You would not be able to think.
And the UN report surmises that these higher temperatures would affect crop yields, water levels: rainy areas would be rainier and dry areas dryer. Imagine Georgetown with more rain or St. Johns with less water. Then imagine the same thing happening across the planet and the resulting shortages in food, clean water and shelter. We have to act now. Stop the building of new roads. In the interim, plan living spaces around existing infrastructure, but future housing should include a train system. Grass and trees where we once had a car garage could save a life.
The discourse on energy is restricted here and to be revisited in subsequent papers. Asphalt and cars necessitate a deeper discourse. I do not attempt that here. But like so many other discussions the Caribbean appears either unaware or lagging behind. A recent Guardian Article x reported that over a hundred scientists and faculty heads at Harvard, that bastion of progressive ideas, have begun to pressure the university to divest its $US33 Billion from companies involved in the fossil fuel industry. Cities like Seattle have followed and divested. The Guardian also reported that both the UN and the World Bank, two more bastions of progressive thought, support divestment as a way to fight climate change. Yes, the UN is giving lip service to oppose fossil fuels. As stated earlier, it is not against climate change we fight, in the abstract, we are fighting for our lives.
When Harvard xi, the IMF and World Bank lead the way, institutions that built their endowments off of the same systems of plunder and inequality, you must know you are far behind. I am not sure where this leaves Trinidad and Tobago's economy since recent reports place petroleum and petroleum products at 40 percent of GDP. Perhaps its time to begin to plan the eventual end of petroleum resources or something sooner.
|Oil Spill Near La Brea, Trinidad & Tobago (c)Trinidad Express|
Its is beginning to spoil our environment in Trinidad and beyond. Trinidad's location with Atlantic and Caribbean Sea coasts places it in a unique position to be contaminated and to contaminate. Fish in the Caribbean sea do not respect borders and roam far and wide. Likewise Barbadian and Jamaican fishing boats come as far as Panama and Costa Rica. This is why we need a regional approach. But I raised the issue of oil as a response to changing attitudes abroad and the need to find alternative energy to power our trains.
Maybe manufacturing trains is an area for development in Trinidad. I recently spent some time in Oakland,CA and had to ask my host the origin of a periodic and unfamiliar swishing sound. It would last for a few seconds at a time. I was surprised to hear it was the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART): a train. It was so quiet with very little of the rattle associated with trains. I slept easily though the train passed within 100 yards. It was elevated. It was a real advance on the noise pollution of cars and the old trains.
I suggest similar trains and using clean(er) energy like the electromagnetic (Maglev) trains of Japan. There are others that generate up to fifty percent of its power from its own motion: without the need for any fossil fuels. The Maglevs can be charged using electricity from any source including solar and wind.
Instead, we are developing projects that require millions even billions in the name of development. The Amaila Falls hydro electric project in Guyana costs $US1 billion. The finance costs are not included in that number. The Solomon Hochoy Highway extension to further South Trinidad is estimated at $7 Billion, roughly US$275 Million and that is in a country with oil and asphalt reserves. We are finding money to warm the planet and destroy environments. We could do better.
Hydro Power is not Renewable
To restate the point, the environmental challenge is not just about global warming and carbon emissions. Carbon credits will not solve the problem. The Amaila Falls hydro electric project is about to be resuscitated after we thought we won that battle. Moreover it indicated that Sithe Global could still be a part of that project. Not only is Amaila Falls still in the plan, but other rivers like the Mazaruni and Tumatumari are being talked about to be dammed for power. It is clear that neither the local proponents or even some opponents are familiar with the recent science on dams. This lack of information is why we need a regional conference on the environment from which a plan of action must emerge that reflects the science and a true concern for people and all life. Otherwise, its the people whose futures will be damned.
At the outset, I wish to state for the benefit of even my environmental activist friends that hydro-power is not renewable. Hydro-power is not renewable because water is not renewable. And neither is money. The UN describes hydro power as renewable and our governments as well as the opposition and well meaning scientists follow suit. This view is informed by the erroneous idea of carbon emissions being the only measure of and sole trigger for global warming. Therefore, water, or power from water, is deemed renewable since it is not emitting carbon at the point of power generation. Water is not a renewable resource. And certainly fresh water is not renewable. Not if, we have to buy it in a bottle to drink. This is where the exclusion of the people is most apparent. This is anti-environment.
By comparison, current science indicates the sun's potential to provide energy is close to limitless. Further, we are unaware of any direct negative effect on any earthly life. Similarly, wind farming presents no known negative effect on earthly life. The same cannot be said for hydro-electricity which requires damming rivers, flooding large areas, and damaging flora and fauna.
This is a working definition of renewability. If carbon emissions increase global warming and the damaging effects on the environment of climate change, then damming rivers that destroy wildlife and human life has to be non renewable. Water and hydro electricity is referred to as renewable because the rains bring more of it, while fossil fuels are limited. Well, if climate change causes drought then we have to rethink that definition and soon.
Describing hydro power as renewable is like saying nuclear power is clean. It is not. Some of our best scientists are advocating nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels and because of its low carbon emissions. Some describe nuclear power as renewable. It is not. Again it may generate power with minimal or no emissions, but its waste is a dangerous hazard to all life and is indestructible. One need only look at the earthquake and tsunami that hit Fuskushima, Japan. Not only is a substantial part of that country unfit for humans and for the indefinite future, but surrounding waters that reach as far as California are now contaminated. The entire planet is placed at risk. Clean and renewable is not so clean.
What is renewable is attempts to dispose of nuclear waste, because that will now go on forever. But the lives it has claimed, and will continue to claim, that is not renewable. That is eternally lost. The question is, 'for what?'.
Likewise hydro dams, like the ones contemplated in Guyana, are dangerous and destructive to all life. But Sithe Global, in pursuit of its profits, cares little about such things. If you do not understand the ways of monopoly capital you will not see the danger.
Do not fall for the idea of growth and cheap electricity. Refreshed resources would be growth. Our countries are not about to spring new rivers, fresh forests and fresh sources of oxygen. This is it.
|Moco Moco Hydro after Landslide |
(c)Gaulbert Sutherland Stabroeknews
Even in the construction of dams water-flow is interrupted while foundations harden. The spawning grounds for fish and other river life is disrupted and triggers a chain reaction that travels up and down the feeding hierarchy that includes humans. This is a land were big cats roam for food. Once built the reservoir and flooding destroys large swaths of flora and fauna. The discharged water is warmer. The increased temperature prevents reproduction of both plants and animals and ripples up and down the feeding chain. Warm means more carbon. There are cheaper ways.
|A Dry Amaila Falls (c)Kaieteurnews|
|A Wet Amaila Falls (c)Guyana Chronicle|
Debt cancellations mean nothing to people struggling everyday. The current economic relationship requires more loans. Indigenous people in Guyana and elsewhere are under severe strain. Their youth are hemmed in by 'civilization' and plied with alcohol and cocaine. The church is popular. Its a revolving 'door' with no exit except a new dispensation.
Additional proof that hydro electricity is non renewable is the need for reservoirs. If this resource is renewable and continuous we should not need to hold water during good rainfall days to power the turbines through the dry days. In fact lakes are drying up. And even Amalia Falls dries up. Rain is unpredictable due to the effects of climate change. All that land around the falls would have to be flood and those trees destroyed. If your reservoir is too small you could be caught dry. And sometimes it never returns. All that money would have been spent, all the destruction of environment and all for a naught.
You may recognize that this relationship of dependency and extraction began as a result of slavery and has continued. The question of sustainability is second to profits. It has been that way in the Caribbean for 500 years. And its why hydro-electricity is described as renewable and nuclear energy as well.
We have to go with cheaper start-up costs for generating electricity and that includes wind and solar. Guyana is 83,000 sq. miles with a population of 1 million. Its the least dense country in the world. There is space for wind and solar farming and without cutting trees and flooding. We avoid this discussion because wind and solar does not require the same amounts of debt and cash for the powerful and their friends as does hydro electricity. Here the IMF and World Bank abandon their progressive ideas to reveal their true selves:collection agencies for capitalism.
Capital will always find ways to cheapen production costs which involve labor and energy. Labor is energy. Our goal is to avoid being the chosen victims.
Solid waste is another complex problem. For that reason I only address litter and only lightly blend the larger issues of sewerage and household waste.
The Caribbean offers time on white-sand beaches with blue water for sale. But those who know, know that white sand isn't so white or clean. It is washed with blue waters mixed with treated fecal waste. If you go at the right time of the day, you can smell it and sometimes feel it against your skin. Guyana which does not offer blue water beaches, uses the septic tank system, in the main, and those discharge into uncovered drains that empty out in the canals and into its rivers and to the sea. Untreated waste is dumped directly into the ocean. The catfish, cuirass, are fat from feeding on human waste and seem untroubled by environmental concerns. Throughout the region the systems are old and weary. But white sand and blue water seem never to grow old.
Those white sandy beaches would be covered with plastic containers were it not for diligent and constant cleaning. But the beach properties hide the truth about our cities. Caribbean patriot Raffique Shah recently described San Fernando as a city by proclamation only. I won't because I would like to return. He described the litter and public dumping which the municipality seems unable or unwilling to clean. Keeping the whole package clean has become too expensive a proposition. In addition, our will to clean appears overpowered by the volume.
The money our beaches and hospitality industries earn must be shared with the cities. Clean-up needs to be borne more equitably with more emphasis on suppliers: the packagers, manufacturers, and importers of plastics and other packing material. This problem could be solved overnight. A proper return policy for plastic, glass, and aluminum is an immediate must. Studies show money for empty bottles work. This must be funded by he manufacturers and related commercial interests.
Beverage companies like Banks DIH, Ltd (DIH) and SM Jaleel and Co., Ltd.,(SMJ) are two of the main culprits and mainly because of their bottled water and sweetened-drink industries. Desnoes and Geddes Ltd. and Ansa McAl, among others, are also part of the problem. SM Jaleel & Co., Ltd spans the entire Caribbean with its popular Busta and about 15 other brands of carbonated drinks, juice drinks and water.
The real tragic comedy is that SMJ is founded and still headquartered in that 'city by proclamation only', San Fernando. Imagine a company whose plastic and aluminum containers litter the entire Caribbean was founded in the Caribbean and is headquartered in the Caribbean. How could we blame international capital and the legacy of slavery for this one? Quite easily as it turns out. Because its the model that has been inherited by local businesses. Moreover, SMJ is a global company with licenses to distribute throughout the Caribbean, United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and India. The India distribution is limited to its Maaee brand of bottled water. This is a genuine multi-national corporation.
It does not matter where its founders and current principals were born or are headquartered. They could have been headquartered in any of the above named countries. It exhibits the same ethos for which we accuse foreign multinationals. If you need extra convincing, SMJ manufactures and distributes its own as well as brands from foreign based multinationals to regional markets. These include 7up, Pepsi, Schweppes, and CapriSun. And it will effectively adopt whatever attitudes those companies hold to people and environment wherever they locate. In fact, it would do so without the help of those multi-nationals and often with less regulation or concern. Its the nature of the relationship between capital accumulation and people.
I am leaving out the sugar problem for now. They even have a sweetened drink brand called 'Chubby' that they say is marketed for children. This is almost contemptuous.
In effect, the regional plastic, bottle, and juice box problem to which SMJ contributes substantially, reflects the global inattention to solid waste and environment. Its the general inattention to people.
If Bro. Shah thinks San Fernando is bad, he hasn't seen Georgetown, at least not recently, since he last attended Walter Rodney's funeral and was given 24 hours to leave and with no chance to visit a beach. Its known that that municipality has abandoned the idea of a clean city. Its beaches have not benefited from its hospitality industry and is instead littered with debris as is its public areas. Some of the debris came from other parts of the Caribbean and the world: either by the tide or by plane and boat. SMJ has a subsidiary in Guyana too. But they are not alone. It's really a disgrace.
SMJ has local rivals in Ansa McAl and Banks DIH, Ltd. They are not the only ones but are the major ones. DIH does much the same as SMJ. I believe DIH does have a glass-bottle return policy. It manufactures its own beverages and some foreign brands under license, but has expanded into snacks with those pesky wrappers they come in. Its involved in distillery, winery, hostelry, laundry, brewery and bakery. Those and its restaurants present a huge garbage problem. How does one recycle that or hold the manufacturer responsible. Instead we blame the consumers. This is the goal of the powerful: to duck responsibility when confronted. Even the consumers are blaming each other for littering or not keeping it in their pocket or pocketbook for later disposal.
Georgetown, once known as the Garden City, is now the Garbage City. Residents and sympathizers pull their hair out trying to figure out solutions. The city and state government trade accusations about who is responsible. The reality is that no amount of money budgeted, to either, will solve the problem. Money is only a part of it and the manufacturers must pay. A lot has to do with culture I am told. I disagree.
|Plastic City, Georgetown Guyana (c)rootsandculture|
One of the things I notice about clean, garbage free, cities is the accessibility of garbage cans. I use clean guardedly. There is no such place, but I am talking here about litter. The commercial and wealthier parts of New York have them on every corner sometimes: 4 to a corner in heavy commercial areas and the upscale neighborhoods. Even the Caribbean have these places. But go to parts of Harlem, parts of Brooklyn, Tivoli, and Albouystown and the receptacles, if any, are fewer and further apart. This is what I mean about culture. Its not culture at all. Its about planning or the lack of planning and concern for people. Its dehumanization. Its deculturalization.
|Canal on Avenue of the Republic, Georgetown, Guyana |
Of course, the principals and officers of the multinational litterers do not have a garbage problem near their homes. They live in enclosed, gated, communities and travel to and from the office by fixed air-conditioned route with gazes and noses fixed away from the consequences of their good work. They contribute to the political climate a silence that bathes the obvious.
Some citizens and political theorist offer that past governments were better run and would never have allowed current conditions. This is not the case. There is a slim point there, but hardly a victory. Past governments did not have to deal with the level of disposable packaging in use today. Some go further and cite the level of corruption as more now than then. Perhaps, but governments then did not have to deal with narco-traffic. So our minds revolve romantic ideas of the past, blind to the present, and therefore ill prepared for the future. SMJ, DIH and their friends must take responsibility for the clean-up as manufacturers of the products consumed and the package it is in. And we must make them.
We brought our own bottles to the store for liquids and bags for food and provision. Perhaps we need to return to that practice.
The notion of water sold in a plastic bottle was once incomprehensible and now its unsustainable. In Guyana, failures in management and foresight led to broken infrastructure and no tap water. There was a time in Georgetown when water stopped altogether or came without sufficient pressure to reach indoor bathrooms. Thats when some resorted to outdoor baths. It was a feast for the young and some not so young.
A lot of the resources in underdeveloped countries had to be directed to debt repayment accruing from the exploitative system originating in slavery. Water delivery was not a priority. When the taps did flow, it was only for bathing and flushing toilets.
Throughout the Caribbean we see the plastic bottle for drinking water and now the plastic overhead vat for bathing and sometimes cooking. We don't think of how this happened. DIH advertises its artesianxii well water and boasts of its process of purification. Where is this water coming from? Who does it belong to? And why we have to pay DIH for drinking our water from their wells? And these wells are not unlimited sources of water. It is not renewable.
Very few Caribbean citizens drink water from their taps. Its the same in developed nations. They do not trust tap water and the plastic bottle is convenient and mobile. Some of the suspicion is justified. Inconsistent sewage treatment has increased suspicion. Increased pesticide and fertilizer use has added to the discomfort. Fracking has spoiled sources of fresh water. Peace of mind is easier for consumers who choose bottled water. This contributes significantly to the earlier mentioned plastic problem. But it stems from a water problem which stems from a particular history of exploitation as well as capitulation from local bureaucrats and their bosses.
While in New York and Boston and all the empire and its surrogates we turn on the tap and can drink from it if we so desire. We can cook with it. Bathe. Flip the switch and there is light:once your bill is paid. Its a lot less expensive than in the Caribbean. So whats the reason?
Its is not an issue of culture. Its the lack and failure of infrastructure. Its the continued attack on culture by large corporations intent on increasing profits. It adds to the higher cost of electricity as well. Its a populace convinced it has no power. Its the product from a continuing global inequality that originated in the slave trade.
As children we had no problem with tap water. We used it for cooking, drinking and bathing. Occasionally they would issue a warning during heavy rains and flood, to boil your water. We had our own homemade systems to catch larger particles and even small living wriggly ones. There was nothing some heat wouldn't kill.
But now with big business running big agriculture and the increased use of chemicals, things are more risky. It was recently, reported that business interests in Trinidad are looking for land in Guyana for farming. I wonder. I know.
Ansa McAl has been prepping a project for large scale farming in Guyana. It would be a travesty if our new trains powered by renewable energy has to haul petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides to the farm and genetically modified foods to market. It defeats the whole concept. But is an imminent scenario.
Guyana's Ministry of Agriculture only last week (Guyana Chronicle, 4/23/14) announced a plan to grow corn and soybean locally. It offered that they import 40,000 tons of the grains annually, mainly for animal feed, and wanted to reduce that budget. This goes without major comment anywhere in the press. Perhaps because they were unaware of the agreement signed between the Ministry's development arm, National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) and Stine Seed Company from Iowa in 2009, that permitted Stine to experiment with seed locally-Berbice River. In 2012 Stine announced its lines of seeds available in the US and named its Roundup ready strains of corn and soybean. These are GMO seeds. These are crops banned across Europe. We are about to become the dumping ground for more greed. Growing these crops and the poisons used to control them will affect the waterways. You would not avoid it by not eating corn or soy or even meat. It will be in their food. It will be in your water.
Simultaneously the catchment and delivery systems have been compromised. Much like the old trains, these were never properly maintained. This is the dehumanization that occurred. It was, and is, not culture. It was forced by underdevelopment or worse retro-development. It was not growth. It wasn't static either. It was moving backwards. It was shrinkage.
This is particularly tragic in the Guyana context, since its name means 'land of many waters'. Yet, even today, you cannot get a drink of it. Of course, if you have no cash you take your chances. You cannot get any for cooking unless its in a bottle. You cannot have an indoor shower unless you have a huge black plastic bottle in your yard suspended above your bathroom. This is not culture this is a system forced on us by underdevelopment, the effects of capitalism on people who control no capital.
Added to this situation, those elected to operate in our interest support plans to transfer our resources to private profit-interested interests with a promise to rebuild the broken system. The result is the widespread 'theft' of these now private resources through higher prices. This is an environmental disaster: the placing of natural, and vital and necessary resources in private hands.
Around 2011, DIH announced installation of a new waste water treatment system. Water it previously released into nearby waterways from its brewery operations, is now treated before release. I shudder about what it released before 2011. I guess we should be thankful.
The plastic problem flows from the water problem. The reverse is also true. Plastic containers block city drains and cause flooding. But it is not the major contributor to flooding in Guyana. It is the destruction of the forest that is causing the flooding.
The Farce of Eco Tourism
The whole notion of eco-tourism is about creating value in our natural environment. In fact, we need to calculate natural environment as a factor in GDP. Perhaps, we are not as poor as we are made to feel. We may not have hospitals outfitted with the latest equipment to keep us alive. But while alive we need to enjoy a quality of life that demands preservation of the natural environment. Its a contradiction therefore to advance development of eco tourism while mining a few miles away, bottling water in plastic, disposing of sewage and chemicals in public waterways and while abusing the environment with petroleum.
Instead, there is an incredible plan for Norway to pay Guyana for carbon credits Guyana does not use. The trick is that it does not require Norway to do anything about its own destructive carbon footprint. Instead, you get a servant to do it:a surrogate. What a brilliant Idea? And is deeply rooted in the history I described.
City-dwellers tend to compartmentalize these developments. Eco tourism is something that happens far away. Mining happens far away. In Guyana the ruling class' sentiment about rivers seems to be just that; they are far away, we have lots of them, we can spare a few, and the big one - the promise of cheaper more consistent power.
When we offer eco-tourism it should be a place, without internally combusted cars, powered by true renewable energy, and an invisible and effective solid waste recycling operation. Eco tourism has become the new baby of the Caribbean. Dominica, Belize, Jamaica, everyone is offering its natural environment to a clientele who it appears has destroyed theirs. In fact, Jamaica seems poised to sell an entire island, Goat Island, to foreign interests for eco friendly development.
|Its reported 4000 of these machines are slowly eating |
their way across Guyana's rainforest (c) Inewsguyana
In Guyana the government champions eco tourism and offers the would be tourist an unspoiled rain-forest. While simultaneously, 4000 cranes with internal combustion engines are involved in stripping the forest cover in search of gold and lumber. The surrogate is no saint. These 4000 cranes do not include the standing cranes used by the large operations like Omai and the developing Aurora Project. Troy Resources Limited, an Australian company, just got funding to dig a new mine: the Karouni Project. Renee Lewis in an Al Jazeera article quoted Amazon Watch which has determined that at current rates of deforestation, 50 percent of the Amazon Forest will disappear by 2020: in 6 years.
Foreign earnings from gold outstripped all other exports from Guyana last year and the year before. So there is not a chance that this will stop soon without revolutionary action. But it is generated, like all the issues we described, by demands outside the country.
The irony is that we pursue these foreign earnings, most of which go to debt servicing and to the very people who we offer Eco-tourism. In exchange we get a chance at development which looks much like the denuded cities whose inhabitants we seek to attract. It is a cruel trick.
Its time to stop measuring. Its here. Its real. Caricom resources have been concentrated on measurements; the rise of water level, the deterioration of coral, assessing vulnerability, calculating risks and numerous other studies. Lets cut back on the studies and implement some concrete steps: maybe not concrete. But steps to improve our quality of life and in a holistic fashion.
ACT NOW Environmental activism is a dangerous pastime according to Al Jazeera's Renee Lewis,xiii 908 people have been killed between 2002 and 2013. And today the average is 2 activists per week. Its a dangerous thing indeed. This does not account for the lives lost as a result of mining accidents in pursuit of the black and the yellow gold: spills, water poisoning, explosions and general land degradation, Oil spills in Trinidad and cyanide spills in Guyana are closer to home.
The Government of Guyana appointed Dr. Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, Nobel Prize Winner and IPCC member as Chairman at its flagship Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development (IIC). Perhaps he can bring some light to the process. My suspicions are that its really to cover, legitimize, the ongoing travesty.
We know that whenever a part of something is designated for special purposes, its usually means that the rest of it, the un-designated is unprotected will soon disappear. Indigenous people know this trick well: the reservation trick. We are talking about a region whose forest supplies 40 percent of the world's oxygen.
|Dr. Kublalsingh arrested and removed from tent city protesting|
highway flyover. (c)
Resistors were fighting, for much more, for their way of life and against the continuing dependence on fossil fuels, the lack of concern for the effect on other life forms and the dismissal of the necessary relationship between humans and our environment. Kublalsingh estimated the roadway would result in the destruction of 1,000 acres of farmland and 400 homes.
And true to form he was met with armed blue uniforms. Two tent cities constructed in protest were demolished by soldiers and police. Later, the state allowed protesters to remain opposite parliament but without tents. That juncture of the highway plan was recalled for further study
Just as growth without development compromises the organism, so too does underdevelopment. After ending his hunger strike, Dr. Kublalsingh now knows, that even relatively short periods without sustenance can result in atrophied muscles and worse. That is what has happened to us. We have been on a forced hunger project; an embargo. It is not a strike of our doing. We cannot afford to strike. It is a strike against us. We have to organize.
|Garbage outside Stabroek Market in Georgetown, |
Guyana with Parliament Building in the background
We need a Clean Air Act, a Clean Water Act and an Endangered Species Act. This is not a request that we return to some past time when things were better. No one wants to give up the luxury of inflated rubber tyres on asphalt, sun roof open, some rebel music, one hand on the wheel cruising at 65 mph. I resent it too. But its what has to be done. I was reluctant to relinquish my own.xiv. But things have to change. Banning cars is a kind of reverse embargo. Perhaps we should sell it like that. We are all in an embargo some greater than some. Free trade is free in one direction only. We need to be proactive: Now.
i"World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia
and Related Intolerance," A periodic conference hosted by the UN to address
global trends saw Canada, the US, and Israel walk out of the 2001 conference
held in Durban, South Africa. The same three countries along with German,
Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia and New Zealand elected not
ii Gateway to the United Nations System Work on Climate Change The document lists the amount of gigatonnes of carbon emissions we need to reduce by 2050. More than likely these numbers mean little to the average person.It certainly doesn't mean ending private automobile use.
vi Gateway to the United Nations System Work on Climate Change Taken from the chapter “Causes”.
ix Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change references excerpted from Mashable's, We're Running Out of Time to Stop Global Warming, UN Says by Andrew Freedman, April 14, 2014
xHarvard Faculty Members Urge University to Divest from Fossil Fuels by Susann Goldenberg, The Guardian, April 10, 2014
xi The Harvard Slave Project uncovered that some of the university's wealthiest early benefactors were slave owners and that Harvard also owned slaves. Its connection with the Caribbean is that its earliest students were the children of Caribbean plantation owners who could easily afford its tuition given their enormous wealth.
xii Artesian wells are drilled to find water trapped in aquifers deep in the rock below the earth. Why is this a private business for profit. Of course, you know the answer but it raises the old question of whose resources it is or am I.
killed While Defending Environment, Land Rights, dated April 15, 2014
xiv We used to be a two and one- half cars family, We are trying to get by with one.
|Garbage and the results of the dehumanization process (c)rootsandculture|