Jamaica’s environment or Jamaica’s economy…Why is there a choice?
Dr. Lester C. Facey
Often when I think of environmental affairs in Jamaica I am inclined to examine the current state of affairs and the decisions that are made in the best interest of the people. Environmental decision making is a process that should be grounded in the notion of sustainability – a socio-ecological process characterized by the pursuit of a common ideal; this ideal must place the environment first so that future generations will be able to enjoy and appreciate the flora and fauna that the land beholds.
The Caribbean is at a crossroads on when it comes to the environment – how do we utilize our land for environmental capital without causing harm to this source. For those of us in the environmental field, we are even more concerned because too often, decisions are hastily made concerning the use of land wrapped in the discourse of economic development without inviting environmental stakeholders to the table of discussion. After all is said and done, political decisions are made and it is akin to watching two trains racing towards each other on the same track at full speed – an impact is imminent.
Talking of the environment as a stand-alone entity is outdated. After the environment is mentioned, more than likely the next phrase that is uttered is sustainability. Once the two have been introduced through economics, this courtship brings about sustainable development where our precious land must be considered with all economic decision being made as to how the land is utilized for business purposes. Theoretically, this is how it should happen. Empirically, this is what needs to happen in Jamaica!
Once the discussion of sustainable development is incorporated into the discussion of environmental affairs and economic development, any leader who wants to be taken seriously on this matter must place renewable energy (i.e. solar, wind, etc.) on the agenda. Anyone considering non-renewable energy sources (i.e., coal fired plants) as a sole source in relation to jobs, tax revenue, foreign investment, etc., is someone who refuses to look at pollution history (i.e., industrial England in the late 1800’s to several cities in modern day China). Most notably, by embracing coal fired plants, communities will now be faced with increased incidents of upper respiratory illness, reduced ambient air quality, particulate matter that have a strong potential to affect water bodies and agricultural land. History clearly tells this story clearly. The fundamental question that the people of Jamaica must ask themselves is this; if coal fired plants were to be constructed and operational on the island, (1) should this be allow to happen knowing the negative consequences; (2) is this Jamaica’s only option; and (3) why are some politicians so quiet on this issue?
Sustainable development and economic growth must be addressed in the Jamaican context. What is the best way to make sound environmental decisions that would have a minimal (if any) effect on the environment? Annually, for the last several years, China has been one of the top three countries in the world to produce solar panels in addition to one of top three countries to produce the most amount of solar energy.
Knowing this, China should be working with Jamaica to develop a domestic solar panel industry, solar power grid infrastructure, and the sharing of the latest research and development technologies in these areas. The reason why this is so important, is because now, instead of the discussion being focused on coal as an energy source, there would be a visionary shift to a multi-tiered analysis of the benefits of using solar energy as a renewable energy alternative. This in turn can bring about robust discussions concerning entrepreneurship (developing a solar power industry in Jamaica and supporting businesses); job creation (employment opportunities supporting the solar power industry); tax revenues (how these new businesses can provide a tax base for communities); maintenance of solar panels (train employees on the maintenance, upkeep, and repair of solar panels); and most importantly, use the natural sunlight as a source of energy that is sustainable and does not cause harm nor negative impacts to human health and environment.
When we hear of any discussion or the considering of coal-fired energy generation in Jamaica, we must ask why is this even being considered knowing that there are other options on the table. What makes risking and reducing the quality of Jamaica’s environment appealing in the name of development? When discussing sustainable development, Jamaica must be in line with the newer business model of growth and development as defined by many Fortune 500 companies; the triple bottom line.
Traditionally, the bottom line was all about economics. As long as a profit was to be made, the environment was not part of the discussion. In a sense, it was a casualty in the name of economic development. Conversely, the triple bottom line places an emphasis on economics, society, and the environment. No one is more important than the other and this relationship brings about sustainability when the three are brought to equilibrium. Multinational corporations realize that business has a responsibility to take into consideration society and the environment when economic decisions are being made. The leadership in Jamaica need to mirror this activity.
The environment is not a JLP or a PNP issue; it is not a city nor country issue; nor is it a black or white issue – the land that is bestowed upon Jamaica is the responsibility of all to address and nurture as a new born baby. Jamaicans are here to ensure that this baby, is taken care of with love and a commitment.