Industry vs the Environment Exploit the natural resources but preserve our environment for human development Tony Fraser
How does a country such as Trinidad and Tobago and the entire Caribbean region to achieve the balance that is required to develop our human potential at the same time that we avoid destroying our living space? And how are the development and environmental objectives to be achieved in the context of the Caribbean reality: the constrictions of small- sized islands with limited resources; Guyana lying below sea level; a surrounding Caribbean Sea open to abuse; and with economic activity so decisively, but yet so differently dependent on preserving, at the same time exploiting the environment. That contest is at its sharpest in Trinidad and Tobago as Government seeks to exploit the energy resources of the country through an industrialisation programme. On the other side, villagers and environmentalists are unequivocally committed to protecting the human environment of their home communities, fishing grounds, land for planting food, and the natural habitat for animals to also inherit the earth. Everywhere in the CARICOM Caribbean (if we could be permitted to so brutally break-up the region) land is scarce; the exceptions being Guyana and Suriname. Everywhere are the island states and Guyana with its sea wall to keep out the tide, threatened by predicted sea level rises as the glaciers of the Arctic region slide into the Atlantic and flow into the Caribbean Sea. Yet the people of the region, and governments elected to enhance economic activity and to keep out drug traffickers and gun runners, have to encourage foreign direct investment that is interested in exploiting the natural resources of the Caribbean; and all of this to ensure human development prospects for the people of the Caribbean. Ultimately, those resources are in the ground and need to be mined. Moreover, if the region is to achieve and enjoy the real value-adding potential of its oil, natural gas, bauxite, edible marine resources, agricultural lands and forestry, then an industrial programme, which of necessity present serious environmental challenges, must be engaged. Otherwise, the Caribbean region will continue to be the proverbial “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. It is a conundrum facing the region: how to exploit the natural resources of the island and continental states of the Caribbean to allow the people of the region to make financial use of these resources; at the same time preserving the very environment being exploited for continuing use and preserving it for generations to come? At the same time Caribbean countries are seeking the solution to the human and environmental development problems 4
they are subject to the UN’s prediction about the impacts of climate change on the planet affecting the most vulnerable. “The poorest countries and most vulnerable citizens will suffer the earliest and most damaging setbacks, even though they have contributed least to the problem." That translates for the Caribbean, given the outline of the problem above, severe restrictions on how natural resources can be used to return benefit to the peoples who own those resources. Back in the 18th century, Britain was free to embark on its Industrial Revolution without concern for the environment as consciousness of the harm to be wrought by the polluting industries was not present in man’s thinking at the time. The American industrial and manufacturing juggernaut also had free passage to develop the vast smoke stack industries in the 1930s and 40s without querulous scientists probing into environmental impacts. Today, no one is going to stop China and India from achieving their industrialisation programmes even if they continue with a vengeance, the process of boring large holes in the Ozone Layer and contributing to the depletion of this vital source of protection of human life here on earth. Nonetheless, the reality according to the group of scientists who produced the UN Climate Change report, “no country, however wealthy or powerful will be immune to the impact of global warming.” With this reality in mind, the UN is requiring industrial countries to cut their emissions by at least 30% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050. With a greater sensitivity to the fact of developing countries needing some more time to catch-up with economic development, the target set by the UN is for developing countries to cut their emissions by the year 2050. One very critical issue for countries such as Trinidad and Tobago is the threat of emissions being measured on a per capita basis – Trinidad and Tobago with significant industrial operations for its size could be judged to have very high levels of emissions per capita. To achieve some level of stability of carbon emissions into the environment, the UN says the world must spend 1.6% of global economic output each year until 2030 to avoid the catastrophic impact of climate change. Without such an investment, the UN Report says a “warmer world could stall and then reverse human development especially in countries where 2.6 billion people live on US$2.00 per day. "The world lacks neither the financial resources nor the technological capabilities to act," the UN report says. "What is missing is a sense of urgency, human solidarity and collective interest." Therefore, the burden of the impacts and the adjustment will fall most heavily on countries and on specific populations which are least able to bear the cost of adjustment, either in terms of moderating their industrial development, and or finding the scarce resources to fund the rehabilitation of the environment. Even the United States Government has resisted cutting back on emissions as that would interfere and retard its industrial programmes, says the President George Bush. Already, the Caribbean has begun to feel the impacts of one element of climate change. The impact is on the hurricane force winds which rage through the Caribbean between July and October.
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Published on Jan 27, 2009