Last Friday, October 3 I had the great honor of speaking at the launch of the LASCO Rootz R.E.A.P. Program (R.E.A.P. = Releaf Environmental Awareness Program) at the St. Jago Cathedral Preparatory School in Spanish Town. I was also interviewed on Hot 102 FM, which was fun! I thought I would share my speech with you. I also wrote about the event on my Jamaica Gleaner blog page, “Social Impact,” here: http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2259
Congratulations to all involved! For more information and to learn how schools can participate, please read my Social Impact blog and look them up on Facebook and Twitter.
Thank you, Mr. Hall. Councilor Claude Hamilton, representing the Mayor of Spanish Town; Member of Parliament for St. Catherine Eastern Dr. Denise Daley; President of the Jamaica Independent Schools’ Association Pastor Wesley Boynes; Mr. Stephen Newland, Project Director, Releaf Foundation; Representatives of LASCO; Principal of St. Jago Cathedral Preparatory School Ms. Andrea Baugh, and the awesome Ms. Nadia Guy, Coordinator of the school’s Environment Club; Teachers, staff and students of St. Jago Cathedral Prep and those from other schools – Denham Town Primary, Allman Town Primary, St. Aloysius Primary, Kinder Kampus and others; Mr. Dickie Crawford and Hot 102 FM and others in attendance…
Good morning, everyone. I am very honored to speak at the launch of this exciting competition. I warmly commend Rootz Underground for its creative inspiration, and LASCO for its support for this visionary project. I am happy to greet the St. Jago Cathedral Preparatory School family. It is a wonderful school that serves its students well and that cares about Jamaica’s environment.
I recently experienced the joy of seeing our first migratory bird. She had just arrived in our Kingston yard. It is the female American Redstart, commonly called the Butterfly Bird. She is small, she is beautiful, and she has flown nearly 3,000 miles – at night, up to thirty miles per hour – from North America to our yard in Jamaica. And there she is, fluttering in the bushes, happily collecting insects on the wing and splashing in the bird bath. What a mystery – what a miracle she is.
It is the island of Jamaica, the “land of wood and water,” that nurtures this little bird and thousands of others, every year. But don’t we take it all for granted? Why are we so wasteful? This summer we suffered one of the longest and most painful drought periods in living memory. Our political leaders were beseeching us to save water, and to report leaks. We must learn from this, and learn to change our ways. Although the rains have come, I hope that sense of urgency is still with us. All this derives from our failure to prepare, and to think long term. It comes from carelessness – and taking things for granted, just like the return of my little bird every September.
But what can I do as an individual, you may ask? It’s time for action. The time is now! Here are just a few things we can do:
#1 Conserve, nurture and protect all living things. Everything has its purpose, even the smallest insect. Just because it has no immediate use to us does not mean we should destroy or throw it away. We are all interdependent, all connected in the cycle of life.
#2 Get rid of our bad habits. One thing we can stop doing, right now: stop littering and dumping garbage. Stop throwing cartons out of the car window, thinking someone else will pick them up. Stop dirtying up our communities. Stop the habit of expecting government to do everything for us. Let’s get up, organize and do it ourselves.
#3 Which brings me to my next point: Get involved. Plant a tree. Recycle. Do a beach cleanup. Join an environmental organization. Volunteer. Find something you are passionate about and get involved in a project that can make a difference. If you don’t know of any, contact Jamaica Environment Trust or a parish environment group, and ask them what you can do. Or start your own group.
#4 So they say charity begins at home. Start with your immediate surroundings. Plant some herbs in pots. Start a vegetable garden (that saves money, too). Grow plants that will attract birds and butterflies. You will be happier in your surroundings, and you will set an example to your neighbors. Encourage them to do the same!
#5 So yes – start to empower your community. Remember, it’s action, not words. Start a neighborhood cleanup – not a one-off thing, but a regular exercise perhaps once a month. Create a community park; each resident can contribute something, however small, even if it is just one plant. Teach responsibility; keep the park beautiful. Have some pride!
Get the energy going, even if it’s only two or three of you at first. And keep it up!
#6 The private sector can, and must play its part. Hunter Lovins of Natural Capital Solutions, who was in Jamaica recently, pointed to many opportunities, saying “Climate change is not about polar bears; it’s about business!” (Well, I actually think it’s both). Have you heard of green collar jobs? Jamaican businesses can save money (and earn money) through sustainable business practices. Things are happening: A public/private sector partnership has started up. Wisynco has begun partnering with several firms – Pepsi Jamaica, Grace Kennedy and others – as well as the government’s JEEP program and other organizations to launch a nationwide recycling initiative. It is called Recycle Now Jamaica and you will be hearing much more about it.
#7 Listen and learn. It’s never too late. We have many wonderful scientists who can teach us so much. Take a hike in the Blue Mountains and learn about the unique habitat up there. You can find 200 resident and migratory birds. 800 plant species grow there that exist nowhere else in the world. The world’s second largest butterfly lives in the Blue Mountains; do you know its name?
I know the Releaf Foundation is focused on trees. Do you know the names of – and can you recognize – our native, endemic trees? These are the best trees to plant. For a start, they are more hardy and resistant to storms. [Spanish Elm, Blue Mahoe, Lignum Vitae, Santa Maria, French Oak, Stinking Toe, West Indian Mahogany etc]
Did you know that the Cockpit Country provides about forty per cent of our freshwater resources?
Did you know that the Portland Bight Protected Area where Goat Islands is situated includes the largest mangrove system in Jamaica (about 2/3 of all Jamaica’s mangroves) which together with extensive sea‐grass beds and coral reefs, likely contains the largest nursery area for fish and shellfish on the island. The largest remaining area of intact dry limestone forest in Jamaica can be found there. 271 plant species have been identified, including 53 that are found nowhere else on Earth.
Learn about the issues affecting our coastlines. Residents and hoteliers in Negril are seeking alternative solutions to help restore the rapidly eroding beach.
Learning and knowing the facts about Jamaica’s wonderful natural heritage is one thing. But we need to teach others and support others – let’s live as a sustainable community.
#8 Teach the children. I know that this school is doing a fantastic job in this area, and so are many schools across the island. But environmental responsibility is not just something you learn in school and forget about when you leave the compound. Let the youth go home, talk to their parents and their neighbors, and put into practice what they have learned in their communities. Let us train responsible, caring young citizens, role models for their peers.
#9 Think long term. Don’t rush to the quickest solution. Sometimes you can take the road less traveled. It may take a little longer to reach your destination, but the rewards will be greater.
#10 Listen to people, talk to people. This is a democracy – make your voice heard and encourage reasonable and fair debate and discussion. Don’t get angry. Get focused and get informed. Talk to your political representatives; lobby the government on environmental issues you care about. Make sure they hear you!
#11 Look around you, and simply enjoy the beauty of this island. People may say beauty cannot generate jobs, but I would dispute this. Many people make money from photography, film and eco-tourism, for example. Observe, enjoy, slow down and breathe in the fresh mountain air. Listen to the nightingale sing; watch the pelicans’ amazing dives.
#12 And always – always practice what you preach!
I would like to conclude with some of my own thoughts on environmental conservation.
Firstly, there is much talk nowadays about “balance.” As a blogger, I participated in Jamaica’s second annual Jamaica Blog Day in May. The theme this year was “Environment vs. Development.” I concluded that in this so-called balance, the scales are always tipped in favor of Development. There really is no balance. In fact, this is literally happening. The Scientific American reported last year that global warming is actually changing the location of Earth’s geographic poles.
Political leaders like to talk about “sustainable development” – it’s a favorite catch phrase these days. But what does it really mean? The most widely accepted definition comes from a 1987 report, Our Common Future: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The human race can progress without depleting the earth’s natural resources. But it has to be a different kind of progress.
Secondly, the idea that poverty is the main destroyer of the environment is a myth. The greatest destroyer of the environment is the pouring of concrete where there was once a breeding site for seabirds; the dumping up of mangrove forests that protect us from storms and hurricanes, to create a housing scheme; the cutting down of trees that have taken many decades to grow, and not replanting any; the building of coal-powered plants that will pollute the air we breathe; the dredging of the seabed, removing all the organisms that live there.
So, don’t blame the poor. That is simply unfair. Whether rich or poor, Jamaicans and citizens the world over can learn to live more sustainably. A charcoal burner or a farmer who practices the “slash and burn” can learn more environmentally friendly practices.
I believe it is unchecked greed that is endangering our planet. “If you think the economy is more important than the environment, try holding your breath while counting your money.” (Professor Guy McPherson)
Yes, we all love technology, but does having the latest iPhone really bring us a better quality of life? We know, and we have seen that technology can bring more lasting benefits: electric cars that do not use gas; the use of our natural resources, sun, wind and water, to power our homes and factories; recycling car tires and plastics to create clothing and building materials.
Our Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill, often says, “With climate change, we must change.” And he is absolutely right. I believe he is talking about a change of mindset. I would say it is time to change our actions, too. Because climate change is here, and it is now. It’s not in the future. It is right here in the present.
So, we must think differently. We must think about the future of our planet and our children and grandchildren, who will inherit it from us. We have already done enough damage, and we know this. We are also learning from our scientists that some of the damage may be irreversible. We cannot always go back and fix things. We can become less greedy, more caring, and learn to live in harmony with nature and with each other, as we know our Creator (whatever our religion or belief system is) intended us to do. And I am using the word “we” deliberately. Because it is something we must do – can do – together. We can be a force for the good of the planet.
Our lives will become richer and more meaningful. We will be healthier and happier. And the future of generations to come will be much brighter.
I want to end by quoting a banner I saw during the recent climate change people’s march. It said, “There is no Planet B.” We cannot continue behaving as if there is another planet that we can move on to, after we have used up this one and made it unlivable. This is the only Planet we have. This is our Mother Earth.
How could we treat our Mother this way? She has always provided us with everything we need!
Here is another quote, which I confess I stole from Ms. Lovins’ recent presentation, by Buckminster Fuller – an architect and an early environmental activist. “We are called to be architects of the future: not its victims.”
Thank you for listening to me. I wish you all a wonderful day and a more sustainable future for our beautiful – and fragile – island of Jamaica.