Tomorrow (Wednesday, June 5) is the United Nations’ World Environment Day. This year’s venue is China, where the theme will be Air Pollution (see below) and if you click on that link above you can learn more from the UN. Some people say there are too many of these “special days” but I don’t have a problem with them. They help us focus on specific issues. Let’s look at just a few that are affecting Jamaica right now (and this is not an exhaustive list, unfortunately). With these in mind, I encourage you to visit the Green Expo at the National Arena this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (June 7 to 9). There will be a lot to learn, discuss, browse, and buy! And many ideas on how to save the planet.
As a Jamaican scientist said recently (it has been said before but is worth repeating): Everything is connected. If we ordinary mortals don’t understand this – and perhaps some of us are finally “getting” it – then we are doomed. So, all these issues are indeed, intricately connected. It’s easy to “join the dots.” And they are linked to our health. We are our environment. If the environment is sick, we get sick (message to our Health and Wellness Minister!)
Cockpit Country: The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has released a third video PSA, featuring testimonials from residents of Gibraltar, St Ann, a Cockpit Country community where bauxite mining is actively taking place. Cockpit Country remains in limbo. JET’s Project Coordinator Lauren Creary says: “Bauxite mining is already happening in Cockpit Country communities in St Ann which have been left out of the protected area and is expanding west into Cockpit Country communities which are closer to the boundary in Trelawny,” said Lauren Creary, JET Project Coordinator. JET emphasizes: “Since Prime Minister Holness’ November 2017 announcement of the designated Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) boundary, new mining leases have been granted by the Jamaican Government which will allow bauxite companies to mine right up to the edge of the CCPA boundary. The Cockpit Country Protected Area has not yet been protected under Jamaican law or closed to mining by the government.”
Today in parliament, Mining Minister Robert Montague declared “There is no mining within the proposed boundaries.” He also said, “Four community meetings have been held, but there needs to be more.” The full text of his presentation in the Sectoral Debate today is here.
For more information, visit JET’s booth at Green Expo this weekend at the National Arena (June 7 – 9) which will highlight the Save Cockpit Country campaign, or log on to www.savecockpitcountry.org.
Watch the third episode of the Save Cockpit Country series here: https://youtu.be/RBtwY2lp_cM
Water: This was a hot topic in Jamaica up until two weeks ago, when after a period of drought the rains fell. Now, we’re not talking about it so much. Our Opposition politicians continuously bleat, “Where is the crime plan?” Well, I would rather ask: “Where is the water plan?” Our lack of long term planning over the past three or four decades is now painfully obvious, and we are paying the price. However (trying to find a silver lining here) the heavily under-resourced National Water Commission has plans, I understand. Currently, the Hermitage Dam is now at 65.8% capacity and the Mona Reservoir is at 36.5% capacity – both serving the hot, thirsty city of Kingston. Solutions: Conserve water! Obviously – and protect our watersheds from degradation and deforestation.
Sanitation: Connected to the water issue, of course – and to our health. A lack of drinking water, open defecation and solid waste pollution, in general, all contribute to highly dangerous situations where diseases like malaria could develop at any time. Open drains that overflow when it rains, antiquated sewage systems like many of those in downtown Kingston, and the prevalence of pit latrines (still in many schools) are all aspects of the problem. I learned about the practice of “parachuting” (using plastic bags as toilets and then throwing them into nearby areas) from my friend Damien Williams, who has extensive experience of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (“WASH”) issues in informal communities such as Naggo Head in St. Catherine. There are no more plastic bags, however! Women and girls are especially affected – it’s an issue of dignity and security. Solutions: Rural Water Supply Limited has been doing great work replacing pit latrines in schools, introducing rainwater harvesting and tanks, etc. The most important thing is to take these solutions to the people themselves, community by community. Their input, their involvement in planning sanitation and water is critical. No one wants to talk about toilets, but we must. Our leaders must.
Deforestation: This is not only happening almost every time we widen a road in urban areas, and in rural areas, almost indiscriminately. The beautiful lignum vitae trees on Old Hope Road were destroyed last year to accommodate yet another used car lot – but we talk about reducing greenhouse gases? What a travesty, a classic example of our short-sightedness! I understand that around 40 percent of Jamaica is forested – about the same as Canada. Possible solutions: Pay more attention to our watershed areas (how is the Yallahs Hope River Watershed project doing?) Stop cutting down trees, and start planting more trees – especially hardwood, native trees as well as fruit trees. Agroforestry anyone? The Forestry Department is there to help you! Their “Adopt a Hillside” programme looks like a positive move.
Air Pollution: According to the United Nations, every 60 seconds 13 people die prematurely as a result of air pollution. Breathing polluted air slows mental development in children and we are all aware of the increase in asthma and other lung afflictions. I recall a few years back when I asked the then head of the UN Environment Programme what was the worst form of pollution; he did not hesitate to say air pollution. Nothing has changed. Air pollution goes hand in hand with greenhouse gas emissions. Our garbage dumps (don’t call our dumps “landfills” please!) emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and they burn. They still burn. There are still complaints of fires in and around the Riverton dump, and you can see the pollution lying like a thick haze over the city in early mornings and evenings. Then there are the recent fires on the Retirement dump near Montego Bay, blanketing the “tourism mecca” in smoke. Solutions: Monitor air quality and publish findings regularly. Start “waste to energy” projects.
Plastic Pollution: According to a number of rural residents I met over the past few months, this and deforestation are the two concerns that bother them the most. Solid waste in general, but of course, plastic dominates. Solutions: Increasingly frequent cleanups in and around Kingston Harbour and on every plastic-polluted beach on the island are of course welcome. The effort on Labour Day by boat owners in the harbor – led by businessman Brandon McKoy – was amazing. They collected over 11,000 pounds of trash and I am sure they felt it was the tip of the iceberg. The solution is to tackle solid waste in communities under-served by garbage collectors. Whatever happens on the land impacts our marine environment, quite quickly. As I noted recently, it will actually cost billions to tackle Kingston Harbour, with its sixteen gullies – and to tackle it on land and sea.
Other solutions would be simply steadily reducing the amount of plastic we use. Refuse plastic and styrofoam – in restaurants, cafés, and supermarkets. Changing our lifestyle is critical. The plastic bag ban has been truly effective – although I am concerned that I have heard nothing about a planned deposit on plastic bottles from Minister Vaz. What gives?
Transportation: This entire sector is, in a word, a mess. Firstly, widening roads means more cars. A recent example of this is a highway in Los Angeles, which, five years after it was widened, is now worse than before. Secondly, it was announced just today that the Trade Board has amended its requirements for the importation of used cars (the used car dealers certainly have some influence – and they chop down lignum vitae trees, too) so that they can be imported at a higher age. Commercial vehicles up to 20 or even 25 years old can now be imported. Where is the logic in this? Does Minister Montague know anything about air pollution or climate change? Thirdly, where is the creative thinking? Are we going to be stuck with polluting, high emission vehicles on our roads forever? There are many examples worldwide (yes, in developing countries not far from here such as Colombia, too) of innovative, clean, safe solutions to public transportation. Possible solutions: Monitor vehicle emissions tightly. Look at electric vehicles as Barbados is doing. Revolutionize public transportation. How about a light railway linking Kingston, Spanish Town and Mandeville? How about freight barges and trains to transport goods, instead of heavy, road-destroying, air-polluting trucks? It appears from today’s speech in Parliament that the Government is considering these options. Let us see!
Noise Pollution: We don’t think of excessive noise as pollution – yet many of us, including the sick, elderly and young children, suffer from its ill effects. It causes mental stress, hearing loss and affects the heart and breathing – among humans (like Hope Pastures residents and those living in the inner city) and animals too (like those animals behind bars at Hope Zoo, who are impacted by noisy parties and events on a weekly basis). Solutions: Strengthen and enforce the noise abatement laws (don’t bend them for certain privileged people!) and ensure that there are quiet zones near hospitals, parks, etc. in urban areas). We all need peace and quiet, for our health’s sake.
Bauxite Pollution: One of the major issues here, as Jamaica Environment Trust has noted, is transparency. Several requests for information by JET have been ignored. Why? The issue of transparency and accountability cuts right across the board in Jamaican governance of course – whether it’s human rights or business. Let’s come clean. And please politicians – let’s not have our cake and eat it too.
Our seas: Last but not least! With Saturday, June 8 being World Oceans Day (yes, another of those days!) there is much more to be said…