Hey Team Caribbean Sustainability,
In the past, I have written about Earth Hour on this blog, turned off my lights and felt proud of myself. NOT THIS YEAR. As my blog community grows and my commitment to sustainable development deepens, I am moved to make a CARIBBEAN EARTH HOUR a significant event for 2013 and into the future.
How? I am not sure yet but I'm starting with this blog post.
Scientists fascinate me. Even though at school, I sat through physics classes with a blank expression on my face; created potentially disastrous and life-threatening situations in the chemistry lab; and wreaked havoc in biology classes with dismembered frogs and other little creatures (thankfully for them, already dead).
But real-life scientists…I admire them intensely. A few years ago, I met the charming, laid-back Jamaican Professor Anthony Chen when I was working on a climate change program. We had a lovely long chat. But when he made his presentation, I was completely lost in less than five minutes. Yes, it’s true, Professor Chen. Sorry. But I love you.
As for astrophysicists… Well, I fall at their feet. How do they explain and understand the endless wonders of the Universe? How do they figure out all those light years (I’ve never been sure what a light year is)? Don’t they get cross-eyed peering through telescopes all the time?
No, that last question was just downright silly. What I really want to say is that astrophysicists are sort of in a realm of their own, to me; their heads are in the stars and galaxies and nebulae. I wish I was up there with them, but I am not. I am just a rather ignorant layman (laywoman, rather).
So, I nearly fell flat on my face when I learned that my absolute favorite scientist, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, was to pay a visit to Jamaica courtesy of the U.S. Embassy. I have followed his tweets for quite a while; I tweet back, but my scientist hero doesn’t respond. He is too busy for the likes of me, and maybe my tweets are a little lame. I am in awe, you see.
And there he was, standing a few feet away from me, talking about the importance of science in a country’s development. Yes, he went straight to the heart of the matter, and it needed to be said, and said loud and clear: If Jamaica wants to step into the future, scientific innovation must be a part of that future. We must - must - invest in science and technology. That IS the future.
Make sense? Yes, I thought so. We knew it all along, didn’t we? Then what are we waiting for?
Science is international, says Dr. Tyson. It’s not something countries do all on their own, hiding away in a lab, these days. Scientists from all over the place collaborate on research, share ideas, whizz off to the International Space Station together, make discoveries, hold press conferences, do high fives when they succeed.
It is so exciting. A veritable United Nations of Scientists. Where is Jamaica in this United Nations?
Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, who joined the discussion at the U.S. Embassy via video-conference, echoed the importance of science for the international community, reminding us that science helps governments make policy decisions. As a biochemist herself, she admitted to being a little “biased.” But really, we should all be biased towards science, shouldn’t we? Well, I believe so.
And Dr. Tyson pointed out that astrophysics, or astronomy as I used to call it, involves every kind of scientist – not just physicists like him. Biologists, geologists, chemists, engineers…“Almost the entire portfolio of scientists is needed in space,” he told us. (It’s funny, when he talked about “space” he made it sound like it is something just down the road. Which it is, in a way. It’s just there).
Dr. Tyson offered some surprising, even disconcerting perspectives. Throughout the twentieth century, he pointed out, global leaders in their arrogance “thought they were living in special times.” With the usual cloak of hubris that we humans love to dress ourselves in, those leaders really believed that they had reached the pinnacle of progress. But. But they “found themselves overtaken by science,” Dr. Tyson pointed out. Even the Wright brothers – yes, the Wright brothers – predicted that “no flying machine will be able to fly.” In 1932, a well-known astronomer expressed the firm belief that man would never land on the Moon. Huh. Neil Armstrong had already been born when he said that. And then, everyone started over-predicting; by now, many of us should be sitting in little colonies on Mars, and who knows what else.
And what motivated us humans to begin space exploration? Well, Dr. Tyson reminds us that it was the Cold War. There was the “Space Race.” First of all, there was Sputnik. Sputnik was the first man-made object to be put into orbit around Planet Earth. It was a pretty small, polished aluminum sphere and it was launched from the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957. Aeronautical engineer Sergei Korolev was a major player in the development of the Sputnik and the Soviet Union’s space program. And this was after he suffered terribly during Joseph Stalin‘s “Great Purge,” when he and other scientists were denounced and sent to a Siberian labor camp. Korolev, and many others, were pioneers in the Race.
The Space Race picked up speed. The Russians put Sputnik up in a hurry, as they heard the Americans were going to launch a satellite any minute, now. And so it went on, with, as Dr. Tyson noted, the Soviet Union chalking up a remarkable number of “firsts.” For let’s face it: during the 1960s, “The United States was not driven by discovery” in its quest for the stars. It wanted to get there before its Cold War opponents, the Russians. And vice versa, of course. In fact, President John F. Kennedy actually said: “I’m not that interested in space.”
You have to bear in mind, Dr. Tyson told us, that the Space Race, and the astonishing, galloping scientific progress made during that period, was not some high-minded, noble pursuit in the interests of mankind. On both sides, it was motivated by power politics; by winning. You always want to win the race, don’t you? You want to get there first. So that was it. Things aren’t so different nowadays.
It’s human behavior. It’s the way our minds work. We are competitive as hell, when we put our minds to it. And, as a logical consequence of that, Dr. Tyson warned us, “The militarization of space is inevitable.” We will transpose our warlike, greedy, competitive behavior on Earth into space. “Turf wars” will take place in space, wherever we end up going. Space is just another territory.
But, whatever the motive – geopolitics, greed, economics…“We are moving forward.”
We are not standing still. Dr. Tyson made some rather interesting comments on progress, which he observed, “is not always obvious…In fact, it’s fragile.” Scientific progress doesn’t go in a straight line, if you can imagine mapping it on a graph. For example, airplane development was moving rapidly at one stage, and then stopped: “Planes are no faster than they were forty years ago.” If you look at photographs of airplanes in the seventies, they are basically the same, apart from a few fancy gadgets. We are pretty happy with where they are, for now, so it seems.
And yet, human thought is so peculiar. Who would have thought, Dr. Tyson noted, that in 2013 (oops, that number) there would be buildings in New York where there is no thirteenth floor? And that there are books being seriously sold in our stores with titles such as, “How to Defend Yourself Against Alien Abduction”? We are as superstitious as we ever were.
“Ignorance of science breeds fear,” said Dr. Tyson. This seems absolutely logical to me. Can we not throw away at least some of our traditional superstitions, and embrace the reality of science? Are we really so afraid? And if so, why are we?
“Why do we run from natural disasters?” Dr. Tyson asks. He wants to run towards them – to tap the energy of a volcano, to harness the power of a hurricane. How exciting!
So what of the future for science globally – and specifically, for Jamaica? Dr. Tyson showed us an extraordinary map of the world, based on the level of scientific research in each country or continent. At first, the United States appears fat, Western Europe ballooning, Japan swollen, South America a sliver. Then he showed us another map. Based on current levels of research, the United States has shrunk; Japan is still quite large; China is larger, and Latin America is down to almost nothing apart from Brazil – which has the third largest aerospace industry in the world, by the way. Africa has virtually disappeared. Jamaica, and the Caribbean in general, is nowhere at all.
Those maps spoke for themselves. “There is no excuse any more,” said Dr. Tyson. The technological tools are available. Investment in scientific research is essential for the growth of any nation in the 21st century. A simple, undeniable fact.
OK. Here in Jamaica we can talk about culture. We can praise our National Heroes, our athletes, our musicians. We can make speeches. We can conduct long and rigorous election campaigns. We can preach sermons and pray non-stop. We can chat for hours on our verandahs, on radio talk shows. All that is fine, and lovely, and enjoyable. But none of it is any use at all, unless we invest in the future. And the future is science. And if our culture embraces science, then everyone will participate, and it will grow. Just as it has grown in many parts of Asia today, where science and technology have become a way of life, a bridge to the future, an educational necessity. We have to buy into it. It seems to me that Jamaica is falling way, way behind; when did you last hear a Jamaican politician (even the Education Minister) talk seriously about science as the way forward, the solution to our chronic under-development?
Thank you, Dr. Tyson, for opening our eyes. I wish you could have stayed longer, but I hope those who listened to your talk sat up and took notice. Dr. Tyson was inspired at age nine, he says, when as a schoolboy from the Bronx he stepped inside the Hayden Planetarium. Now, he is the Director. I would love to see young Jamaicans inspired, and moving the country onwards and upwards.
The sky’s the limit. Or the stars.
As a total non-scientist, I truly believe that. So, Jamaica, what are we going to do about it?
Here is one of my favorite Tyson quotes (there are many great ones)…
“We are all connected; To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”
And here’s another:
“Curious that we spend more time congratulating people who have succeeded than encouraging people who have not.”
“Knowing how to think empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think.”
P.S. If you are like me and don’t know too much…I highly recommend a stunning National Geographic documentary series, “Journey to the Edge of the Universe.” It is just that…step by step, further and further outwards. Narrated by Alec Baldwin, the visual effects are almost intoxicating – imaginative but based on solid science of course. A thrilling journey. You can watch the whole thing on line, or buy from Amazon.com.
P.P.S. If you haven’t seen or heard Dr. Tyson on radio or television…He is a true media star. He is funny - very funny. He has even appeared on Bill Maher’s show. And he has written ten books. The latest is “Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.” There is an Amazon link to all his books below. Oh, and he is also a great dancer, and a former Harvard wrestler of some repute. Just take a look at his amazing bio…
Related articles and websites:
http://iipdigital.usembassy.gov/st/english/publication/2009/09/20090921142100mlenuhret0.7704846.html#axzz2I3wQV8Po (The View from an Island, by Professor Anthony Chen)
http://www.haydenplanetarium.org/tyson/profile/about-neil-degrasse-tyson (Neil deGrasse Tyson profile: Hayden Planetarium)
http://www.amazon.com/Neil-deGrasse-Tyson/e/B001ILIEO4/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1358277275&sr=1-2-ent (Amazon’s Neil deGrasse Tyson Page – all his books are there)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/6998521.stm (Profile: Sergei Korolev – BBC)
http://astroprofspage.com/archives/1035 (Sputnik 1: Astroprof’s Page)
http://www.thespacerace.com (The Space Race.com – on the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs)
http://www.nasa.gov (NASA home page)
11 Baller Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes (businessinsider.com)
- Neil deGrasse Tyson: Good at Science, Good at Busting a Groove (io9.com)
- The Significance of Space Race to The Cold War Rivalry (socyberty.com)
This evening (Tuesday May 22) the Jamaica Environment Trust will premiere a film created by Esther Figueroa’s Vagabond Media called “Cockpit Country is our Home.” It will be shown at Red Bones Blues Cafe in Argyle Road, Kingston at 7:00 p.m. Admission free.
This article was first printed by IPS on May 11, 2012. It is by Jamaican environmental journalist Zadie Neufville, who has been writing on development, health and environmental issues for the past twenty years. She is a co-founder of AhYaad Communications and founder of Our Tomorrows, a development project that seeks to find sustainable and environmentally sound ways to improve the lives of Jamaicans.
There is no up-to-date inventory of the island’s flora and fauna, and a shortage of adequate data collection devices, which researchers say are needed to begin climate impact studies and adaptation planning in ecosystems management.
But, by working toward the seventh Millennium Development Goal (MDG) – a series of development and anti-poverty targets agreed by U.N. member states in 2000 – authorities hope to establish the principles of sustainable development across all sectors to reduce environmental degradation, reverse the loss of environmental resources, and significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss.
Ecosystems Manager at the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) Andrea Donaldson told IPS that while the agency’s work on biodiversity is not focused on climate change, they are aware of the likely impacts and continue to implement measures to safeguard the local biological diversity.
The National MDG Report has pointed to the country’s failures in efforts at pollution controls and the protection of critical ecosystems, and it is these factors that worry scientists the most.
In addition, human activities that result in deforestation, destruction of wetlands and coastal ecosystems, urban sprawl as well as disregard for the natural environment have been identified as some of the most serious threats to biodiversity.
In fact, experts are concerned that disregard for the natural environment could exacerbate the impacts of severe weather. Both the 2010 State of the Environment Report (SOE) and the National Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) pointed to human activities as significant threats.
“Climate change is likely to further increase the negative impacts” of habitat loss, over-exploitation, poor land use and ignorance about the value of natural resources, the SOE reported.
Some experts are already describing changes in coral reefs, forests and coastal wetlands, areas that have been identified as most vulnerable to climate change. It is widely believed that with more than 12 extreme weather events in the last five years, Jamaica is already feeling the effects.
This is the most bio-endemic island in the region. Ranking fifth amongst islands of the world for the number of unique species, Jamaica’s biodiversity losses could be immense. There are more than 8,000 recorded species of plants and animals and more than 3,500 marine species here.
Among the island’s endemic treasures are 10 species of cacti, seven species of palms and 60 of the 240 species of orchids. There are 31 endemic species of birds, nine species of crabs, 505 species of the 514 varieties of land snails, and 33 of the 43 species of reptiles.
At least four of the 24 species of bats here are endemic; 17 of the 19 species of frogs and about 15 of the 115 species of butterflies.
Among the better-known unique species are the Tody, the Jamaican boa, the Jamaican Hutia also called the coney and the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.
The island ranks among the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of places with the highest number of at-risk mammals, due primarily to the threat to its endemic bats and the coney.
Another of the island’s endemic species, the Jamaican iguana, is on the IUCN’s Red List of endangered and threatened species. Roughly 200 of the animals survive in the shrinking limestone forests of Hillshire, several miles outside the capital Kingston.
And as the impacts of fewer but more intense rainy days, increased intensity of hurricanes, and periodic drought take their toll, socioeconomic problems are expected to increase the pressure on natural resources.
As the agency charged with safeguarding the island’s biological treasures, NEPA said it has spearheaded a number of policies, programmes and legislation to manage and prevent unauthorised exploitation.
Its managers admit, however, that enforcement has been difficult so like the Forestry Department, NEPA is making the impacted communities its allies. Adaptation funding has enabled both agencies to replant the forests and coastal wetlands. At the same time, they are working with fishers, farmers and others whose livelihoods depend on the natural ecosystems to find other income-generating opportunities.
The multi-sector, multi-donor climate change adaptation and disaster mitigation project is funded by the European Union. It also compliments NEPA’s efforts to assign economic value to the ecosystem and improve data collection to inform climate change planning.
“We are trying to install data loggers to collect information on sea water surface temperature among other things,” Donaldson noted. “While we do regular reef checks, I can’t say as a fact that any changes we see are from climate change.”
NEPA’s data loggers should provide the Jamaica Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) with information that would be useful in studying the impact of climate change on its vast though outdated databases of plants and animals, biologist Keron Campbell said.
“We are updating the baseline data, the inventories of plant and animal species and this is needed to track any changes,” Campbell told IPS, noting that data-loggers along with ongoing field studies and temperature information from the meteorological service will provide valuable data for adaptation planning.
Jamaica’s Natural History Museum, which houses the CHM, holds 110,000 zoological specimens and a herbarium of 130,000 plant specimens dating back to the 1870s. The CHM is part of an international network and is the result of Jamaica’s commitment under the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity.
Donaldson also pointed to charcoal burning, farming, solid waste disposal in fresh water sources and coastal areas, and improper fishing methods including the use of chemicals as some of the most prevalent and worrying factors that impact biodiversity.
The SOE reported that scientists are also seeing changes in the Portland Bight, the island’s largest nature reserve. It is also the only known habitat of the Jamaican iguana.
Dr. Byron Wilson, head of the University of the West Indies Iguana programme, noted that the continued survival of the iguana is due primarily to the remoteness of its habitat. Efforts to build a colony on Goat Island just off the coast failed, he said, making the Hellishire Hills one of the world’s most important natural habitats.
But development is now making the area more accessible. It was a pig hunter who rediscovered the iguana that had been thought extinct for more than 30 years.
NEPA’s wildlife specialist Ricardo Miller noted that the most significant changes during the annual game birds survey is the rate of development.
“I have had to change my sampling routes due to developmental changes. Some of the best birding trails are being replaced by houses,” he said.
Jamaica’s climate change preparations began in 1997 with Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Global Climate Change (CPACC) under CARICOM (the regional Caribbean Community bloc). The programme initiated among other things the design strategies and databases for climate change adaptation in a number of areas.
If the science is correct, Donaldson said, climate change will result in the inundation of costal areas, loss of habitat and the dying off of some species. Others, she added, may very well adapt.
- Biodiversity Loss Impacts Ecosystems As Much As Climate Change (chimalaya.org)
- Ecosystem Effects of Biodiversity Loss Rival Climate Change and Pollution (terradaily.com)
- Sunday Simmer (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Widespread Climate Change In The Himalayas And Associated Changes In Local Ecosystems (chimalaya.org)
- http://www.cbd.int/idb/ International Day for Biodiversity – website
- http://www.cockpitcountry.com/ Cockpit Country – website
I am waiting for the daily thunderstorm, that has generally announced its arrival with much rumbling every lunchtime.
The week’s news has been a little stormy indeed in Jamaica – although some of the storms were certainly of the kind that you serve tea in. Like the weather, there has been a lot of ominous rumbling, and very little to refresh the soul at the end of it all.
The rumblings continue – especially in the Sunday newspapers and one or two letters and opinion columns – on issues related to sexual abuse and sexual health. Today’s front pages reflect this – the Sunday Observer trumpets “Perverts Stalk Schools,” while the Sunday Gleaner, not to be undone, shrieks “Abortion for Sale!” What concerns me somewhat is that both newspapers give such stories the sensational tabloid treatment. One should skip over the lurid graphics and headlines and try to get to the meat of the issues; but both reports are a little short on facts. One learns from the Sunday front pages that 1) reports of teachers – and maybe other school staff – sexually abusing high school students are on the increase; and that 2) some health workers are illegally selling an ulcer treatment drug as an abortion pill (abortion is still illegal in Jamaica, for some reason). A television station reported the second story earlier in the week, even visiting an establishment where this practice was allegedly taking place. What is to be done about these matters – or rather, what will be done? That remains to be seen.
And then, last Monday, a nasty little squall skipped over the waters of the warm Caribbean Sea. It was up at the illustrious University of the West Indies (where, I hear, there have been several violent incidents among students over the past year, which have not been reported by the local media). A group of students protested violently at being banned from sitting examinations because they had not paid their fees to the university where they had been attending classes. Note that it is now the end of the academic year, and they still owe money. So, the students descended on the hall where hundreds of students had just begun writing their examinations, pencils sharpened, trying to settle their nerves. The aggressors banged on desks, kicked over the desks of some of the students sitting examinations and shouted about how “unfair” it all was, forcing the invigilators to cancel the examinations. What’s more, the university has to re-set the examination papers and reschedule the tests. As is so often said in our island – “the good (those who actually paid their fees, or whose parents struggled and saved to pay them) had to suffer for the bad (those wanting something for nothing).” As Professor Carolyn Cooper notes in her weekly Sunday Gleaner column, the offending students (some of whom masked their faces) were suffering from a delusional and selfish sense of “entitlement.” They don’t pay their fees, and yet somehow feel that the world owes them an education.
According to another video posted on a local blog, this is all evidence of the class/race war on campus. One of the examinees regrettably referred to the protesters as “uneducated ghetto people,” prompting the video’s rant about – yes, race and class, which has no relevance to this particular issue, in my view. There were no doubt “ghetto people” who had struggled to pay the fees sitting those examinations on Monday – and the disrupters included several “brown” middle-class students, for sure. To me, the issue is education, and the funding of it: As Martin Henry comments in his excellent op-ed on the topic today (Sunday Gleaner) it is successive political administrations that are to blame, not the mean old university that is just trying to make ends meet. Oh yes, poor people must have access to education, all Jamaicans must, the politicians say; but hey, we, the government, are not going to fund it. The new Education Minister, as I pointed out in an earlier post, makes wonderful and fine-sounding speeches; but in recent weeks he has been telling struggling independent schools on the verge of closure and other despairing educators that there will be no additional funds for education in the much-delayed Budget, so they will have to make do with what they have got. So there. (In his Education Week message, Minister Thwaites says Jamaica has “achieved the Millennium Goals set for education.” Could he elaborate on what these are? Somehow I wasn’t aware of this).
A few bolts of lightning this week too, amid the storm clouds glowering over our educational landscape: A Dean of Discipline at a rural high school was stabbed twice and had his leg broken by a group of students who had been told to stay home for a few days because of their disruptive behavior. Five students have been charged with the attack on Mr. Gavin Myers, who, lying in his hospital bed, said he hoped for “redemption” for the students. One suspects that karma may be more likely to kick in. By the way, there were two other stabbings at high schools reported late in the week. It goes on. May I ask whether the JCF School Resource Officers program is still functioning, and has it made an impact? It seemed like a good idea when it was launched some ten years ago. And can each student/visitor be searched on entering school compounds? It sounds drastic, but what do you think, dear readers? “Bring back flogging,” commented one member of the public. But violence begets violence.
Concerns: Things are not looking so good on the crime front. Although major crimes have declined, murder has slightly increased in the first quarter of this year, compared to last year. The Minister of National Security, accompanied by a gaggle of police officers, is on television almost every night in his baseball cap, bravely tramping through the byways of various depressed communities, occasionally comforting a grieving woman, trying to understand the complexities of each little neighborhood where gunfire rings out. This week, gunmen fired on a group of domino players outside a little shop in a place called Rejoin, Hanover, killing a father, son and two others. The smallest parish in Jamaica has experienced a startling increase in homicides this year. There were other depressing little stories: a fruit vendor’s body was found in downtown Kingston, by the Jamaica Stock Exchange. A woman was found in the sewage pit at the elaborate home of her “baby-father.” And the residents of a rural community knew exactly where to find the body of a taxi driver and policeman’s son, trooping down to the deep, swirling river ironically called Sweet River – where bodies are often dumped, they said. And there was the usual television footage of women – mothers, babymothers, sisters, aunts – collapsing at the roadside, or sitting on their cramped verandahs, numb with grief. I don’t know what I am going to do, they say.
I was not impressed, either, by circular conversations in the print and broadcast media about the “impasse” between the Transport Minister and Contractor General over the former’s plan to apparently override the CG’s surveillance of three big investment projects. Comments made by the Opposition, including Senator Christopher Tufton on “All Angles” this week, suggest that the Jamaica Labour Party is also being “mealy-mouthed” on this issue. And can we hear a bit more from civil society on this? It reminds me of a former People’s National Party slogan: “Don’t Stop the Progress!” This one is going to rumble around in the background for some time yet, one feels. And once again, as Mr. Henry noted on the issue of education funding, the Government is attempting to ride two horses running in opposite directions: Yes, we must “strengthen” the office of the Contractor General and it is very important; but No, we are not going to let him stand in our way when it suits us. Meanwhile, the Jamaican people have made it pretty clear in all the vox pops - they trust Mr. Greg Christie more than the Honorable Minister and his comrades. Sorry.
When are we going to hear any details at all about the Finance Minister’s visit to Washington? Or is he still there with his “technical team”?
And why bother? Crime, corruption and the economy are all burning issues for the Jamaica public. Don’t we know that? Then why, oh why, are we still regaled with bickerings and pettiness from both the Lower and Upper Houses? This past week, the Senate erupted in one of those storms in a teacup I mentioned earlier. An Opposition Senator and spokesman for foreign affairs raised the issue of the appointment of diplomats when there is a change of administration. Hardly a burning issue. It is quite normal for both political parties to recall key diplomats when they come to power, so that their envoy will be more in tune with the government of the day’s priorities and policies. Jamaica has had some excellent representation, and some fairly mediocre, overseas. But Senator Tufton, the fact that the previous administration you were a part of kept on one Ambassador appointed by the previous regime is neither here nor there. One swallow does not a summer make. I would like to know, however, who will be Jamaica’s next Ambassador to the United States? Has the media enquired into this?
Why did the Jamaica 50 logo need to be re-designed (and at what cost)? And by the way, do we have any details of what the Jamaica 50 celebrations will consist of? There have been many media announcements, but I for one am still not clear…
Congratulations and warm fuzzy feelings are also accorded this week, to the following:
Mr. Brandon Allwood and his young team of volunteers and supporters, who successfully staged a hot and noisy march and rally last Tuesday on behalf of “Help JA Children,” a movement to try and shake things up on the issue of child abuse. May is Child Month in Jamaica. I have posted several comments and blogged on this before, but yes – I was one of the few people over the age of thirty who participated. UNICEF was there; Susan Goffe and Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice were there; and a group of non-governmental organizations that work with women and children – the indomitable ladies of Eve for Life, the Women’s Resource and Outreach Centre among them. More projects are planned for the month – I will keep you up to date. Meanwhile, please visit the Help JA Children Facebook page, and you can find them on Twitter, too. An excellent turnout and good media coverage, too. Keep up the pressure!
For the second consecutive week, I wish to congratulate Technology Minister Phillip Paulwell, who on Tuesday was responsible for some amendments of the eleven-year-old Telecoms Act that will not only make a monopoly in the market much less possible, but will also mean a reduction in local and international telephone rates. Once again, a big clap on the back for Minister Paulwell – one of the few who is properly focused on his portfolio, not distracted by photo-ops or sideshows. The gentleman is working – and the Jamaican consumer will benefit!
I am also heartened to hear that by this September the topic of climate change should be on the primary school curriculum, as announced by our Minister for Climate Change (and other things) Robert Pickersgill. Meanwhile, I hope the Honorable Minister will address the “Disaster in Waiting” described by the Gleaner’s Erica Virtue on Tuesday, the possible re-ignition of a fire at the Riverton City dump – or is that the Local Government Minister’s purview? (And by the way, Minister Arscott, a smile would be nice occasionally…It goes a long way).
And a word of commendation for Corporal Karen Austin (I hope I spelt her name right) of the Santa Cruz Police. A series of TVJ reports this week focused on the plight of a woman with two children, who were found to be living in the most awful conditions. The police were inclined to take the children and put them into care, but the mother begged for them to stay with her. Kind-hearted citizens – thanks to them also – have since contributed food and clothing and it is hoped that a home will be provided (by Food for the Poor, perhaps?) It was Corporal Austin’s calm face and comforting demeanor that impressed me though. The footage of her carefully cleaning between one of the children’s toes was somehow so touching. Corporal Austin embodied real compassion – something that is so lacking in our society. Thank you, you made my week.
“Big ups” also to Yaneek Page, CEO of Future Services International, Ethnie Miller-Simpson of Brandz Avenue and Ingrid Riley, CEO of Connectimass, who helped launch – and will lead – the Women’s Entrepreneurship Network Caribbean. 22 Caribbean dynamos participated in a forum supported by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Global Women’s Issues Initiative. These three Jamaican women are working on building the network, along with fellow entrepreneurs from St. Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad. I wish you all much luck!
I am really sorry I missed it, but the three-day “Kingston Pon Di River” arts festival was a delight and a big success, I hear. Congratulations to the organizers – Janet Silvera, Dollis Campbell and Millicent Lynch. Wish I had made it for the drumming session, especially – and of course, Tomlin Ellis’ passionate poetry.
And to the Alpha Primary School, celebrating its 120th anniversary this year. It began when Miss Jessie Ripoll (later Sister Mary Claver) opened the Alpha Cottage to accommodate a little orphan girl on May 1, 1880. Let’s remember our history, and support education in whatever way we can.
Condolences to the afore-mentioned Mr. Greg Christie, Contractor General, who buried his father Rupert last week; and especially, to the widow and family of Mr. Lloyd Brevett, who died on Thursday morning. Mr. Brevett was the upright bass player with the Skatalites, the revered and wonderful ska band – of whom there is now only one surviving member. Although he had been ill for some time, the painful part is that Mr. Brevett took a turn for the worse after his son Okeene was murdered in February, just after collecting an award on behalf of his father from the band’s former manager and former Prime Minister PJ Patterson. So sad that a man who helped bring that driving, jumping beat that brought so much happiness and sheer enjoyment to the Jamaican and world music scene passed under such sad circumstances.
P.S. A definition of “mealy-mouthed” (one of my father’s favorite expressions): “Hesitant to state facts or opinions simply and directly because of timidity or hypocrisy.”
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/lead/lead2.html: Abortion For Sale
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/focus/focus1.html: Samfie Government – Broke Pockets and Broken Education (Martin Henry op-ed)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120506/cleisure/cleisure3.html#disqus_thread: Student Rights and Wrongs (Carolyn Cooper op-ed)
http://www.jis.gov.jm/news/leads-1/30471: Education Week Message from Minister Ronald Thwaites
Op-Ed: Fighting Injustice in Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)
The Ghetto strikes back…and Satan Deconstructed… (anniepaul.net)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead1.html: Call rates to drop
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120502/lead/lead2.html: Jamaica’s Children March for Help
http://220.127.116.11/news/list/30468: Jamaica 50 to Provide Opportunity for Small Producers
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120504/ent/ent3.html: Skatalites lose another member
Sunday Showers (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Sparkle (petchary.wordpress.com)
Sunday Steam (petchary.wordpress.com)
New Book: Something to write home about (repeatingislands.com)
I have settled on “Sunday Shuffle” now, finally – because this really describes how I work my way through the newspapers. All the sections get shuffled into each other – very annoying for my husband. I try to put them back together again, but somehow it never quite works. They remain in a disheveled state.
OK, let’s go.
This week’s Story to Ponder: The National Environment and Planning Agency – NEPA (yes, the E and P still sit uncomfortably together, in my mind) released a report on the conflagration that was the Riverton City dump fire (and let’s not call it a landfill, it’s not). The report stated baldly: “The data showed ambient air quality with respect to PM10 (particulate matter 10) within a one-kilometer radius of the site to be ‘very high risk,’ according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Canadian Air Quality Index definitions.” The communities at very high risk were/are the very low income communities of Riverton Meadows (about as far from a meadow as I have ever seen), Seaview Gardens, Cooreville Gardens and a little beyond. Up to two kilometers from the flickering fires was just “high risk,” including Washington Gardens and Duhaney Park.
[Pause for thought: I always find it ironic that some of the most struggling, barren stretches of Kingston's residential areas are all gardens and parks and meadows. I don't want to offend anyone living in these communities, but the original planners and developers must have named these in a fit of extreme optimism, much like those pretty but unreal architectural drawings one sees with trees and flowerbeds and people sitting on charming park benches].
And over these communities hung, for at least a week in February, the pall of toxic chemicals from the Riverton City dump. The clouds of smoke were a murky grey-brown, tainted with chemicals pouring out from plastics, tires, dead animals, household garbage – you name it. Many residents suffered from asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. But my question is, what is still hanging in the air? And what are the “volatile organic compounds” and metals that may still be up there, or that may have descended on our homes, our earth, our water, our heads? This is just one report, but according to today’s Sunday Observer report by the excellent environmental journalist Petre Williams-Raynor, NEPA noted some fundamental and major deficiencies in the monitoring system – no permanent air quality monitoring stations; no sampling equipment; and no equipment for the testing of “additional pollutants” (these are the ones that worry me), such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
We have a Minister for Climate Change and the Environment, Mr. Robert Pickersgill. He has been on a very fast learning curve since taking up office, poor man. He wants to do the right thing to make sure that this “never, ever happens again” (my quotation marks – but good heavens, it has already happened so many times before…) Basically, Minister Pickersgill needs money to fix the problem – but there is none. The previous administration decided not to fill in the land at a cost of some $35 million – money which would have been well spent, as it cost far more to put out the fire, and law suits are in the offing. Riverton City is, I repeat, not a landfill but a giant, open trash heap, scattered with bulldozers, scavenging Jamaicans, herds of cattle, pigs and goats (!) seagulls and rats and filth. Just festering, open to the sun and wind. No proper sorting or recycling goes on (please correct me if I am wrong on this, dear readers). So, it comes down to this – it’s not just about money. It’s about political will. It depends how high on the priority list the health of Kingston residents comes, in the eyes of the politicians. But what scares me is: How much damage has already been done? The Ministry of Health is also doing some studying, measuring etc. Will the public be informed, soon, on the results of these studies? And what about all the toxic materials that we don’t have any data on at all? I’m very nervous, and far from reassured.
On the topic of climate change, local environmentalists such as the Jamaica Environment Trust’s Diana McCaulay are not impressed by the government’s performance, despite Minister Pickersgill’s declaration that it is “a serious concern to our sustainable development.” But meanwhile, the University of the West Indies‘ new Faculty of Law has introduced an environmental law course as an elective for final-year students. As lecturer Laleta Davis-Mattis says, “There is a role for advocacy in environment.” Come on, young law students, give it some serious thought.
Why bother: The ongoing wrangling between the Jamaica Teachers Association and the Ministry of Education seems to be a spillover from the previous administration. The one-upmanship continues over the establishment of a Jamaica Teaching Council. Before that, other “controversial” issues were chewed over, put on one side and stuck on the underneath of school desks like old chewing gum – perhaps to be picked up and re-chewed at a later date. Ugh. Some lofty words are being spoken, as well as some rather confrontational ones. I sigh and wait for it to be sorted out. How is this all going to affect the quality of the education delivered to thousands of Jamaicans? Your guess is as good as mine, dear reader, but do enlighten me, if you know.
Talking of schools, the new Anglican Bishop of Jamaica Howard Gregory (a clear-sighted man, I believe) is putting his foot down over state schools built on church-owned lands. ”We would like to have more say in what happens in our schools,” says Bishop Gregory. Fair enough, I think. The leases are up on the nine secondary schools and 101 primary schools owned in some way by the Church but administered by the State, and the goodly Bishop has no wish to renew them. The matter is under discussion with Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites – a lay preacher himself. We’ll see.
Last week, the city of Kingston also acquired a new Mayor, its 53rd – Her Worship Councilor Angela Brown-Burke (why do we have to worship a mayor, by the way?) The hard-working councilor struggled laughingly into her ceremonial robes (that huge medallion reminds me of a rapper showing off his “bling,” and the hat is a trifle ridiculous) with the assistance of her two predecessors from the other side of the political fence, Desmond McKenzie and Lee Clarke. The ceremony in the Senate avoided the unpleasant partisanship of earlier mayoral installations (especially in Montego Bay and Portmore) – I was embarrassed for the departing mayors, who were booed by supporters of the People’s National Party, but managed awkward smiles. (They weren’t that bad, were they?)
Here’s a Quiz Question: Which Jamaican National Hero served as Mayor of Kingston?
And a question I couldn’t find the answer to: How many female Mayors (Mayoresses??) has Kingston had?
Commendations are also in order for…
The Observer newspaper’s “Moguls in the Making” – supporting young entrepreneurs finding their way through the hazardous landscape of the Jamaican business. I wish them determination, fortitude, and ultimately, huge success.
Ms. Megan Deane, the CEO of the first full-service credit bureau in Jamaica, Creditinfo Jamaica. Ms. Deane is a lady of solid credentials, a woman who more than holds her own in the (still largely) man’s world of finance. In the next six months we should see and hear more about the credit bureau’s products and services. Excellent and well-needed.
The Saturday Gleaner for its excellent “Rural Express” – a section I always read with great interest. The only part that worries me is (despite the delightful stories of quiet success) the underlying and persistent theme of rural decline and decay. More on that in another Shuffle.
To the families of Ms. Pauline Reid and Ms. Ruby Martin - two Jamaican women who contributed a great deal in their different fields of endeavor. Ms. Reid, the first female President of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, died on Saturday in hospital in Washington, DC. Apart from her lobbying for the city’s Convention Centre and several other successful projects, she had a deep personal love for the town and for her country. Ms. Martin was dedicated to the Ward Theatre Foundation and struggled for many years to get financial (and political) support for its restoration. She also bravely confronted cancer in recent years, and died yesterday evening. Meanwhile, the Ward will be 100 years old this coming December, and is literally crumbling and unusable, as we speak. The area around it is filthy, greasy and broken. The least that could be done perhaps in Ms. Martin’s memory would be to make some attempt at restoring it before it becomes one of downtown Kingston’s (and Jamaica’s) many sad ruins.
A concern, and the Las’ Lick:
Could Ms. Lisa Hanna, Minister of Culture and her predecessor Ms. Olivia Grange stop sniping back and forth over the budget for Jamaica 50? Ms. Hanna (wearing a perhaps inappropriate transparent blouse) noted haughtily at a press briefing last week that the budget prepared by Ms. Grange was preposterously high and that she had scaled it right back (she had already told us all about this several weeks ago). Ms. Grange retorted testily that this was not a budget, just a plan, and that it would also have involved the private sector. The Auditor General is auditing, and Mr. Robert Bryan (I remember him, I think, from the overblown West Indies World Cup Cricket days – perhaps not very auspicious) has appeared, saying there is not enough time. Meanwhile, what gives? Where is the Jamaica 50 plan, and as columnist Tamara Scott-Williams notes today, can we please all just be allowed to enjoy ourselves this year, budget or no budget?
Cool it, ladies.
This is an important one, and a topic I will return to, but meanwhile please read and think about the relatively short but significant article by Byron Buckley in today’s Sunday Gleaner, headlined “Church Opposes Gay Stigma on HIV/AIDS Advocacy,” which refers to recent consultations between UNAIDS and Jamaican church leaders. The challenges are many.
That’s all for this week! Feedback, commentary, questions, corrections, enlightenment… all are welcome from you, dear readers.
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Pickersgill-wants-money_11225562 (Sunday Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/UWI-moves-to-cultivate-environmental-law-practitioners_11207932 (Sunday Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/career/-Green–lobbyists-unimpressed-by-Gov-t-efforts-on-climate-change_11217951 (Sunday Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Take-your-hands-off-schools–money_11189750 (Sunday Observer)
- Church opposes gay stigma on HIV/AIDS advocacy (Sunday Gleaner)
- Group Calls for Jamaica to Stop Open Trash Fires (abcnews.go.com)
- http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=107362: Working to Cope with Climate Change, Jamaica Calculates Costs
- Sunday Second Thoughts (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Stroke Risks Increased By Air Pollution, Even A Moderate Amount (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Air Pollution Tied To Cognitive Decline, Stroke (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Strokes & Auto Exhaust (taintedair.wordpress.com)
- The Sunday Stumble – premiere edition (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Two-thirds of China’s cities fail on air standards (mysanantonio.com)
The Petchary was fascinated today by a news report that Bolivia‘s (first) indigenous President, Evo Morales, is working on the second part of a new law called the Law of the Rights of Mother Earth (Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra). This is the first law in Spanish that gives legal personhood to our planet. Mr. Morales presented the concept at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in October 2010 and the law was passed by his Plurinational Legislative Assembly (interesting word, plurinational) last December.
We have human rights, animal rights – hell, even plant rights I understand. So, it makes perfect sense that our Madre Tierra should have rights. It’s fundamental. The Bolivians have determined that these rights are…
The right to life - yes, the most basic one of all. Let Earth live and breathe…
The right to biodiversity - this is a tough one. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website is worth checking out, if you want a real wakeup call. Jamaicans’ very own Baldpate (a plain name for the gorgeous White-Crowned Pigeon) is on the IUCN’s Red List – a huge document that catalogs the status of almost every species on the planet – and is described there as “Near Threatened.” But we are still shooting them, as of now.
The right to water – quantity and quality. World Water Day seems to gain greater significance every year. We all know this is crucial. Of course, the fate of us humans is inextricably tied to that of our Mother. If she has no water, then we protest, we thirst, we die.
The right to clean air – Bolivia declared its first “National Day of the Pedestrian” recently, and Mr. Morales went jogging on the empty streets of La Paz – with a bunch of bodyguards. A blatant piece of PR, but it would be nice to have one of those days in Kingston, Jamaica.
The right to equilibrium – balance is always a hard thing to achieve for me, personally. Poor Mother Earth needs it desperately, before she tips over… beyond the tipping-point.
The right to restoration - a noble aim, but how much can be restored? Can virgin forest that has been torn down by bulldozers and chainsaws be regenerated?
The right to live free of pollution – If there was the political will, this could be done. If Jamaican firms just decided that they weren’t going to belch all their waste into the nearest river; if Kingston residents (uptown and downtown) decided that they weren’t going to ignore the garbage scattered on their doorstep by street dogs – then who knows, we might have a cleaner environment.
There are a couple of flies in Mr. Morales’ ointment, though. One is the recent protests – by indigenous people – against the building of a highway through the untouched rainforest preserve of Isiboro-Secure National Park. Mr. Morales insists that balance will be preserved, and that no exploitation of the surrounding lands will be allowed. The protesters are walking in protest – over 300 miles to La Paz. I don’t think they have reached there yet, but when they do, Mr. Morales will have an uncomfortable time of it. And biodiversity… that right might just go out of the window.
And what of Bolivia’s mining, and gas? Metal prices are high, and Mr. Morales has increased taxes to make the most of it. The much-maligned Standard & Poor’s is painting a somewhat rosy picture for Bolivia in light of all this. Does this mean more exploitation?
Well, Mr. Morales had the right idea, even though like most politicians he is saying one thing and doing the opposite. Perhaps the answer is to have a global Mother Earth human rights law.
Because for sure, global action is needed. Action, not words.
- Indigenous activists gain momentum in Bolivia (edmortimer.wordpress.com)
- Community Driven Bolivia Gives Legal Rights to the Earth (ecomantra.wordpress.com)
- Amazon Road Plan Has Native People on the March Again (edmortimer.wordpress.com)
- Natural Rights: Part 1 (llpathways.wordpress.com)
- Bolivia bans vehicles for a day (bbc.co.uk)
- Indigenous Bolivians March Against Highway (indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com)
It’s summer in the city. And as the old song goes, the Petchary tends to feel it most in the back of her neck – gritty, scratchy.
There is something about August. It’s the month when, in the tropics at least, people give up the pretense, and give in to the heat. It’s August, and one knows what to expect, so one just accepts it – the perpetually sweaty brow, the seven o’clock mornings that are far too bright and starting that slow burn towards lunchtime, the mid-afternoon torpor when even the birds are silent. Then the evening, when the heat slowly drains away into the thick darkness, and a sleepy couch is the preferred place of rest, with the fan blowing gently.
That is how it feels if you are not lucky or rich enough to have air-conditioning – if you are, these things do not touch you at all. You are sealed off in your own little cocoon.
In August, these differences between “man and man” become more stark. The businessman in his perfectly cooled SUV sails calmly past the handcart man, sweat dripping and staining his shirt, his bare feet discolored with dust and tar, straining to push his loaded cart. He smoothly passes the elderly newspaper vendor, his head nodding on his chest as the heat devours him, in his little patch of shade which is no shade. Only the young people seem indifferent, girls laughing and fanning themselves with their hands as they walk jauntily up the street in their shoestring tops and short-as-possible skirts and shorts. The young men have a slow swagger in their step, undaunted.
Young or old, rich or poor…the beach is the only place where you might possibly feel human. Then again, August beaches are usually crowded, sweaty places (not like the one in the picture above). There is sunblock, and sunburn, and people who yell and shout and toddlers getting into trouble on the edge of the sea, eating sand or going to the toilet. But at least, one hopes to feel a little alive again at the beach. You are fighting back against the heat, immersing yourself up to the chin in reasonably clean, not particularly cool water. In fact, a nice cold river is best.
August in Jamaica is a big deal, in some ways. It’s Emancipation (August 1) and Independence (August 6), and there are marching bands and speeches and the obligatory, tedious television broadcasts by our political leaders, staring glassily at the camera as they read from the teleprompter. But then the rest of the month flickers like a mirage, down towards September, when Jamaicans start to wake up and think about school, and off to college, and getting organized in general.
August is a state of suspended animation. Can one hibernate in the summer, like squirrels and bears sleep through the winter? The Petchary tries to reach that summer hibernation state. Forget the beach. Turn off the TV. The sound of the electric fan is the only one that matters.
The Petchary was watching a football match on TV a few nights ago. It was in Texas, and although it was night the humidity was so high that the faces of the players shone with sweat in the floodlights, and their movements sometimes seemed to slow. The crowd was relaxed. A blonde girl with long legs and a lot of mascara tipped cold beer slowly into her mouth. Men with their shirts hanging out leaned idly against the balustrade, pushing their hair back off their faces. A group of young, noisy boys had stripped to the waist and were waving their T shirts over their heads like flags. Yes, that’s August for you.
August for the people and their favourite islands. Daily the steamers sidle up to meet The effusive welcome of the pier.
A nice quote from WH Auden.
Meanwhile, just today, the residents of Moscow are gasping for breath in the smog caused by raging forest fires in the peat bogs surrounding the city. The smog is seeping into the underground system and into people’s homes. There is no escaping it. Climate change is biting.
Meanwhile, even the adored Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt seems to have let the heat get to him today. He was beaten by the puffing and always upbeat American Tyson Gay, in Sweden. The suggestion has been made that our beloved Usain had been partying rather too hard over the last holiday weekend, down in Negril.
That’s what August can do to you. In the Petchary’s view, curling up on the couch with an excellent book (and do take a look at the book reviews) is the answer.