Environment vs. Development: Choose Investments Over Frogs, Bird & Fish.
Jamaica Blog Day concentrates the efforts of the vibrant national blogging community on one theme each year; last year we shone a light on the all too important issue of police abuses, and this year we are called upon to examine the debate between environmental preservation and development. This theme is particularly relevant in light of the government’s stated intention to develop a port and logistics hub in the Portland Bight Protected Area. Predictably, an overwhelming amount of Jamaicans are suddenly environmentalists, decrying the government as greedy, short sighted and any other emotionally charged description that will grab a headline. I’m particularly concerned that most, if not all, the arguments coming from our recently converted environmentalists are emotionally charged. There is a kind of reckless refusal to accept that the extraordinary economic challenges we face as a country necessitates an extraordinary response. It’s unfair and disingenuous to characterize our politicians as greedy when they seek to do the job the people elected them to do. This present government was largely elected with a mandate to address the dire economic situation facing the country. We can quantify the value and effect of the construction of the port and hub on our economic sustainability, what exactly is the practical and tangible value of saving the Portland Bight Area from industrial development?
When we advocate for saving the environment, who are we saving it for? And if your cheeky answer goes something like “future generations”, I want to know what happens to the present generation. What happens to the need for investment, job creation, and poverty alleviation? Isn’t it true that in furtherance of our own survival we must exploit the natural resources available to us? Do we forego the estimated US$1.5 billion investment to save frogs, birds and fish? What of the expected three thousand jobs expected duration the construction phase and the 15,000 permanent well-paying jobs that will be created? Is it reasonable to ask the government to choose to protect flora and fauna at the expense of people’s economic lives? Forgive me, I don’t mean to be indelicate, but this is what it amounts to. If we are intent on mounting an emotional argument for the preservation of the environment, I am forced to mount a practical, economic and quantifiable argument. That is just the reality. When I match the two, my rational mind brings me down heavily on the side of investment and economic development.
Many environmentalists have argued that sustainable development demands that we protect the environment, while seeking out alternative strategies for economic development. Those who subscribe to the vague and imprecise concept of “sustainable development”, must explain how it addresses the 12% unemployment rate plaguing the country, they have a responsibility to explain how “environmentally friendly” activities, and I’m assuming we are thinking of careers in fishing or some kind of craftsmanship, will move our country from a struggling third world economy to one which can adequately meet the needs of a modern population. I am uneasy with the idea being posited that we ought not to disturb the Portland Bight Area because there are fishermen who rely on the area for “their livelihood”; am I to understand that we are encouraging fishing as a long term and exclusive means of employment? To be sure, there is value in this ancient and noble practice; however, shouldn’t we aspire towards more as a people? I fear groups such as the Jamaica Environment Trust may have manipulated these people, as seen by television ads, into accepting that without fishing, they will have no other opportunities for employment. It is an intellectually dishonest campaign, and we owe the residents of the area better than using them to further our selfish agendas. It’s time to get down from our soap boxes, stop pontificating and recognize that our “white hat theories of development” will not result in the kind of benefits that our people are hungry for. Only investments will.
In the semifinals of the recently concluded Burger King National Schools Debate, Kingston College faced McGrath High School on the motion: “This house prefers investments to environmental protection.” In guiding his team to the finals, the Government Member and Debater of the Year from Kingston College, Chevaughn Channer, declared to us judges “A meaningful path out of poverty requires a strong economy, an economy that creates jobs with good wages, one which enables the government to provide schools, housing, hospitals, roads and energy, not to mention facilitate the growth and development of healthy well-nourished children, the future human capital, necessary to the survival of the whole human race. Any astute government would prefer investments to environmental protection. It is folly to put our environment in a de-facto savings account with no real returns.”
I concur Mr. Channer, I concur.