31 December 2006

Laughing Water and the Uglificators

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Uglification is an ugly word, and uglificator is even uglier, which is why I just invented it, to describe those who would destroy the Cockpit Country for a couple of hundred million American dollars.

I am old enough to remember, as a very small boy, the exuberantly sparkling, splashing riotous incontinence of the acres of rushing water which was the Roaring River Falls. The falls are now simply a green hillside on the southern side of the road at Laughing Water which, of course, was named after the gloriously, uproariously gambolling, gurgling, roaring, slaphappy, carefree waters of the cataract.

It was a fabulous sight and a wonderful natural concert of sound. The only picture I have ever seen that captured the madcap mood of the falls was in a guidebook to Jamaica published by a Mr James B Stark in Boston in 1909. Unfortunately, I lent the book to somebody who never returned it. But the falls live in my memory.

Today, at the head of what used to be the cataract, you can still gather watercress, but I wouldn't do that now. E Coli pollution from unplanned human settlements make it a little too dangerous.

The Jamaica Public Service Company destroyed the Maggoty Falls to eke out another fractional increase in electricity generation, rather than put real money into building real power stations. That false sense of economy led also to the closing down of the Kingston tramway and six decades of public transport chaos in Kingston. It was all in the name of development.


In 1953 when I had a row with the editor of the Gleaner and walked out of my job at the grand old age of 19, my sympathetic stepfather, Winston Lynch, invited me to a site for which he was the responsible engineer. It was at a place called the White River Falls, and it was being damed by the JPSCo for another minuscule electricity generating plant. That day, I drove a bulldozer, courtesy of Mr Chung, the bulldozer driver, who told me it was simple. It seemed to me to take nerves of steel to control an enormous D-6 Caterpillar earthmover with the aid of four levers and two pedals. But it was great fun. It got the Gleaner completely out of my system and wiped the White River falls off the map.

We have been making bad development decisions in Jamaica for a very long time. Slavery and the plantation economy were among the worst, exterminating the Tainos, brutalising generations of Africans stolen from their nations, which in turn were destroyed by the trade. It all made money, after all, which is what development is supposed to do. So did driving the ex-slaves into the hills, destroying the forests and producing landslides and massive soil erosion and flooding, drying up the rivers and choking the coral reefs.

The Maroons - those left behind by the Spaniards and those recruited from the plantations - didn't think so. For nearly two centuries, they fought for their freedom, managing to extract from the British recognition as an independent autonomous community.

They signed a treaty with the British as between two sovereign entities bound by duties and responsibilities on both sides. The Maroons kept their side of the bargain, the British didn't. And when the Windward Maroons, blackmailed by the British, were forced to capture the remnants of the Bogle rebellion they earned themselves ill-deserved ignominy from later Jamaicans who regarded them as traitors, without understanding why they were forced to do what they were legally bound to do.

After paying that price in reputation and solidarity, their British 'guaranteed' autonomy was snatched from them by a Resident Magistrate in the 1950s who decided that Accompong was no longer autonomous.
In one sense, it doesn't matter, because the deeds of the Maroons cannot ever be wiped from history. One of their members, Bouckman, took the revolution to Haiti and is now one of their national heroes.
In Jamaica, we are planning to destroy the living heart of one of the most potent symbols of resistance to oppression that exists anywhere.


My father was elected in 1934 to represent Trelawny as the parish's Member of the Legislative Council (parliament). My father's irredeemable blackness stimulated his wife's family to refuse to acknowledge their sister and new brother-in-law for seven years.

I made my first entrance onto the public stage when my mother took me as a nursing infant into the Falmouth Court room where powerful forces were determined to deny my father his against-the-odds election victory. In the election, he had beaten the man who had been MLC for 25 years and Custos of Trelawny for 15.

The Hon Guy Ewen was the leading lawyer in the parish and its most potent financier as head of the Trelawny Building Society. He was the attorney or owner of estates comprising one sixth of the arable land in the parish and chairman of the Parochial Board whenever he found the time. And Trelawny was, in those days, the political equivalent of Southern Rhodesia, not quite an apartheid society, but close.

My father lost the case but Mr Ewen, who won, collapsed and died shortly after. My grandmother - a Maroon was widely credited with 'obeahing' the sadly deceased plutocrat.

My father could not pay the legal fees and, though he won the bye-election after Ewen died, he was in danger of debtor's jail if the bailiffs found him before he was sworn in as MLC at Headquarters House.

My father disappeared into the Land of Look Behind after the bailiffs had seized all his furniture, including my baby crib. In this refuge from oppression, there are place names like "Me No Sen, You No Come" and "Waitabit". My father didn't emerge until the day of the opening of the Legislative Council when his friend, Arthur Benjamin Lowe, MLC for St James, picked him up at a secret rendezvous and transported him to Kingston, the last part of the journey covered by a carpet in the back of Lowe's car.

When Lowe arrived at Duke Street the bailiffs were waiting. Mr Lowe, a Baptist lay preacher was obviously a man of truth, so he was to be believed when he told the querulous bailiffs that he had last seen Maxwell near the Beeston Street (back entrance) to Headquarters House.

They dashed off to Beeston Street and my father, freed of carpet, was soon sprinting up the steps of Headquarters House, hotly pursued by bailiffs. It was as they said of another occasion, 'a damned close-run thing'!
I tell this story to partly explain what may be regarded as my intense, 'almost hysterical' attachment to the Cockpit Country - the Land of Look Behind.


The Hon Dr Carlton Davis, head of the Bauxite Institute for more than 30 years and head of the Cabinet office for almost 20, has, almost proprietorially, asked the environmentalists, to define the Cockpit Country so that he can know what it is they are making such a fuss about.

Without in the least casting any aspersions on Dr Davis, it seems to me indecent that those who intend to despoil a national treasure should be demanding that its defenders should define its boundaries and justify their case.

It is the developers who want to refine bauxite and generate millions of tons of red mud waste that will seriously endanger the Jamaican water supply and it is they who should be defending their predatory position.
The developers, not the environmentalists are the people who want to destroy the priceless biological treasure house of the Cockpit Country by excavation, by caustic atmospheric pollution, by deforestation and other destructive practices.

The developers, not the environmentalists, are the people who want to desecrate the historical and paleoontological treasures of the Cockpit Country.

The developers, not the environmentalists are the people who want to destroy the heritage of the world's first successful guerrilla war against a vastly superior and technologically advanced oppressor;
In any sane and rational democracy, it is the proponents of any violently destructive undertaking such as that proposed by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, Jamalco, Alcoa and their various transnational partners who would be compelled to present their case to the owners with all the relevant facts;

In any sane and rational democracy, it is the developers who would be required to submit themselves for rigorous examination by qualified experts and by the public so that all decisions could be made in the public interest.
In no sane and rational democracy which has signed on to the principles of the Treaty of Rio - Agenda 21 - would people contemplating biological mayhem be allowed to demand that those who oppose dismemberment and destruction be asked to justify their position.

In the topsy-turvy world of Jamaica, where rape victims are transformed by the courts into defendants, such lunacy is made to seem reasonable. In Jamaica the polluter does not pay for his pollution, the people who are damaged are made to pay. The Precautionary Principle, honoured in most civilised countries is in Jamaica regarded as some esoteric theoretical nonsense imported by 'almost hysterical' pressure groups to stop so-called development.

The developers are in for a shock. They are going to discover that there are millions of Jamaicans who are not stupid, ignorant yokels, not modern day Esaus, ready, willing and eager to trade their birthright for a mess of pottage, to exchange their patrimony for the baubles, bangles and beads produced in Pittsburgh, Geneva or Moscow.


But since they ask, let us consider the boundaries of the Cockpit Country.

If you are talking about history and resistance to oppression, the boundaries are wide and go from Kettering (Duncans) in the north almost to Nain in St Elizabeth; and from beyond Maroon Town in the west almost to Bamboo in the east.

For me, the boundaries would include all the caves from Rio Bueno to Auchtembeddie and points west, to the Queen of Spain's Valley and sites where the Taino lived before Columbus' 'doom-burdened caravels' careened so disastrously into their lives at Rio Bueno. So, if you are talking about archaeology and paleoontology, we need to define different boundaries.

If we are talking about geomorphology, we speak of an even larger area, and it is an area vital to the water supplies of most of western Jamaica. It supplies the water for the nation's largest river, the Black River as well as Dornoch (Rio Bueno), Martha Brae, the Great River in St James and others. Again it would include the Queen of Spain's Valley.

If we are talking about ecology, specifically biodiversity, we are talking about a more diffuse definition but which would probably include most of the karstic landscape of Southern Trelawny, parts of St Ann, St James and St Elizabeth. This Cockpit Country is unique in the world, a largely unexplored treasury of plant and animal life with priceless discoveries almost certainly hidden in its hills, valleys, sinkholes, caves and wild places.

If we are talking about the environment, the value of the Land of Look Behind as a spiritual refuge and a wilderness and a resort away from the world, we are speaking of an almost existential dimension.

As we look back at our unsustainable development achievements, at Roaring River, at White River, at Roselle in St Thomas, at Maggoty, Negril, Long Mountain, Pear Tree Bottom and Kingston Harbour and our near catastrophe at Hope Gardens, we can begin to understand what unsustainable development really means.

We have bureaucrats who have no compunction in disregarding public rights including prescriptive rights, in order to build the moral equivalent of freezones for processing tourists, with concrete beaches underlying illegally mined sand. Who in his right mind acres about reefs and mangroves and the habitats of loons? Who cares about public participation in development planning? Who cares about real democracy?


In her campaign for election as president of the People's National Party, Mrs Portia Simpson Miller promised to work for unity and community development by increasing the participation of people in real development planning.

If local people had been consulted about Kennedy Grove, for example, houses would never have been built in a former lake-bed subject to flooding and liable to pollute with sewerage the major aquifer in Clarendon.

If the prime minister wishes to have a second term it seems to me that she needs to get back to her own agenda, as explicated earlier this year, and put a stop to the runaway lunacies of the heavy metal developers.

Perhaps, after the "Developers" have prostituted and devastated the Land of Look Behind, they will tell you, quite correctly, and with perfectly straight faces, that the Cockpit Country then has the potential to be the skateboard capital of the WORLD!!!!

THINK !!! We just don't have the imagination to see what good some old-fashioned constructive uglification can bring. We need to wake up and smell the caustic soda!!!

24 December 2006

Government and Environment

Common Sense
John Maxwell

Before I go any further, I want to thank most sincerely all the leaders and the supporters of the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group for their achievement so far. We still hve a long way to go to guarantee the protection of the Land of Look Behind and we cannot afford to think that we have managed to protect this priceless national asset.

Most of us have only the foggiest meaning of the word "Environment" and understand even less of the so-called environmental movement. To many, "The Environment" is some mystical abstraction "out there' with no relevance to them. Since I want to use a definition accessible to anyone with access to the Internet, I am choosing wikipedia's definition: "Environment refers to a complex of surrounding circumstances, conditions, or influences in which a thing is situated or is developed."

I use this definition because more people have access to the Internet than to my preferred source, the Shorter Oxford Dictionary. Our environment is everything around us and includes ourselves. It starts at the limits of the universe, if there are such limits, and includes, besides us, the plants and animals seen and unseen, the living cocoon of earth, water and air, which allows us and the plants and animals to exist, and even includes the bacteria in our guts, our world leaders and our Governments.

The bacteria in our guts have just been identified as one probable factor in the tendency for some of us to be plump or overweight, even fat, or, God forbid, obese. The human digestive system is home to between 10 and 100 trillion bacteria - at least 10 times the number of human cells. Excrement is largely composed of dead bacteria, and the one thousand tons of topsoil in the top nine inches of an acre of land are probably more than half bacteria.

Why should bacteria make us fat? Our gastrointestinal tracts, from our throats to our anuses, contain two dominant groups of beneficial bacteria. They are bacteriodetes and Firmicutes, and they break down things like fats and sugars, everything we eat, converting them into forms the body can use for energy.

In people with a tendency to be fat, bacteriodetes are a smaller proportion of the bacteria than in leaner, slimmer people. And, as people lose weight, the proportion of bacteriodetes goes up. No one knows why this is so, but in mice, bacteriodetes transplanted from lean mice help obese mice to lose weight.

Obesity is just as much a form of malnutrition as is kwashiorkor - what we used to call 'bang belly' in children. It seems that the good bacteriodetes are losing out to the not so good Firmicutes. The result is that though two of us may eat exactly the same things in the same proportions, the one with more bacteriodetes will stay slimmer, more svelte, the other will add fat.

The question in my mind is this: I wonder if the epidemic of obesity in the western world over the last 25 years may not be partially due to a changing environment in our guts due to the increasing use of chemical additives and bactericides in the diet fed to the livestock we slaughter for food?

If that is true, we have made an environmental connection of great importance. Sandmining and the Norman Manley Airport. Fifty-two years ago, the governor of Jamaica, Hugh Foot, took a leaf out of the then opposition PNP's Plan For Progress, inaugurating the Agricultural and Industrial Development corporations and later, Land Authorities which were made responsible for the management of agricultural land and watersheds in the Yallahs and Christiana areas.

For 30 years or so, the watersheds were reasonably well cared for, and flourished, and by the 90s, the Yallahs River again flowed strongly enough to give some people the idea that it could provide millions of gallons of water for water-starved Kingston. The result: farmers in the lower Yallahs were gradually starved of water, abandoned their farms to soil erosion and more sand was borne towards the sea.

Fly over Jamaica today and the scene is very different from even 10 years ago. The Yallahs and Johnson rivers are huge slashes of barren sand miles back from their estuaries. This has created a bonanza for sand-miners, who every day mine thousands of tons from the river beds. The mining is now so extensive that, in my opinion and without scientific evidence, I contend it is causing the destruction of the Palisadoes peninsula and threatening the integrity of our major airport.

Beaches are never stable, they are continually changing with wind and weather. Sand moves along the coast with currents, here today, gone tomorrow, but usually replaced by sand from somewhere else. The Palisadoes sand travelled all the way from the Plaintain Garden, Yallahs, Johnson, Hope, Cane and Dry rivers and all the other rivers on the southeast coast.

We are now told that we need groynes, rock or concrete structures to stabilise Palisadoes. They will not work. Groynes slow down the 'littoral drift' - they don't produce sand, they simply interrupt and slow down its progress. Since there is not an unlimited amount of sand, the predation in the river estuaries steals the sand that would normally buttress the ancient coral reefs on which the airport is built. Port Royal, in my opinion, is in serious danger and may disappear beneath the waves long before global warming gets a chance to drown it.

Both the bacteriodetes and the sand are governed by natural processes and by the government. Regulations governing the kind of additives, chemicals and drugs in the food you eat may determine whether you die of heart disease, stroke or hypertension. Since the UN's Stockholm Environmental summit of 1972, and the Rio Summit of 1992, governments have increasingly erected regulatory frameworks to govern our environment, from what we eat and where we live, to where our excrement is deposited.

Increasingly, governments like Jamaica's bought into the idea that regulatory authorities tend to interfere with free trade and are a bad thing. If they are not abolished, they should be made to work more like private sector entities.
The end effect of this philosophy in practice, is to remove distributive politics from the lower classes and put it where it properly belongs, according to the flat earth economists of this world. The rich get richer and the poor get even more miserable, desperate, suicidal and murderous.

Mining and the Cockpit Country

Some of the arguments about the intended rape of the Cockpit Country are derived entirely from the flat earth (level playing field) philosophy: Corporations should have the same rights as human beings, no matter that in the case of Alcoa, General Electric and most transnational companies, the minor shareholders' and workers' interest has been hijacked by the managers and the institutional investors, banks and brokerage firms, and have no responsibility whatever to any democratic process anywhere.

Alcoa was welcomed by certain Jamaicans when it played 'poor-mouth' and asked for a 'bly' - an 'ease-up' on the picayune taxes it paid even after Michael Manley. We gave it to them, to a company whose express aim is to reduce labour cost and human accountability to the barest minima. The Government of Jamaica and Alcoa both know exactly how much bauxite is in the Cockpit Country. Each of them separately, Alcoa directly and the Government through the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI), paid an American company named Hatch Inc to find out.

Hatch was engaged by the JBI in 1993/1994 to manage the preparation of a preliminary environmental impact assessment of the design, construction, operation and closure of the proposed North Coast Bauxite/Alumina project. Three alternative project development scenarios were assessed. Hatch was also engaged at more or less the same time, by Alcoa, for more or less the same purposes. According to Hatch, the JBI study entailed :

"Development of a proposed greenfield bauxite mine site, one million tpy [tons per year] alumina refinery, port and infrastructure within the Trelawny and St Ann parishes of Jamaica.

Scope of Services: Develop a phased environmental impact assessment study programme.
Project Highlights:
  • First planned use of geographical information system (GIS) tools for Environmental Impact Assessment in Jamaica.
  • Preparation of study funding from the Canadian International Development Agency.
  • Preliminary Environmental Impact Assessment study team integrated Canadian, Caribbean and Client specialists.
  • Local resource training incorporated into study programme.
  • Programme preparation included a review of industry practices and site visit to all active Jamaican bauxite mining and alumina refinery sites.
Project Cost: US$1.5 billion (1992 dollars)

Hatch are not tyros at this game, they are a huge company and acquired Kaiser Engineers a few years ago and 600 Kaiser Engeneers with it. Less than a year earlier, they acquired another army - of 900 engineers, consultants, support staff and the offices of BHP Engineering from the Broken Hill Pty group, one of the largest mining organisations in the world. They appear to have been the supervisors of the Jamalco 1.5m tpy refinery expansion in Clarendon.

Hatch's skills are considerable, and they boast that "One of Mining Resource Evaluation Unit (MREU)'s core strengths is in Geological Resource Evaluation, including data assessment, geostatistics, computerised geological modelling and resource estimation. MREU also have the in-house expertise required for the geological aspects of bankable feasibility studies, due diligence studies, project audits and technical reviews.

One imagines that the feasibility study of the Cockpit Country was 'bankable" since Alcoa planned to build a 1.5-million ton per year alumina refirnery on the basis of that evaluation. You can find all over the web, reports on the research work already done in the Cockpit Country. There are even tutorials on the web using the Jamaican bauxite information as the baseline. One, by Mike Price of Estrada/San Juan Inc, says that "the data used has been generalised from real data that describes bauxite in Jamaica".

The tutorial is accompanied by a map which shows Jamaican bauxite mining sites and one of them is in the centre of the Cockpit Country. The map's caption says: "Jamaica produces nearly one-third of the primary aluminum ore bauxite consumed in the United States. Incidentally, Dr Lyew Ayee's post-graduate degree is in GIS technology.

Pollution and Mining

A few years ago, there was in Jamaica, a Czech scientist, Dr Jasmino Karanjac, who retired as professor of hydrogeology at UWI, Mona. While he was here he carried out several studies with the co-operation of the Water Resources Authority and its head, Mr Basil Fernandez, who like him is an authority on bauxite refinery contamination. In a paper prepared for a Conference 'Water Resources & Environmental Problems in Karst' in September last year, Professor Karanjac said, inter alia, "About 60 per cent of Jamaica is underlain by the White Limestone Formation. Jamaica is also well known for its "Cockpit Country" - an easily recognised pattern of round-top hills and depressions with internal drainage. White Limestone is, in many places, karstified, its aquifers are covered with thin soil layers that do not offer much of protection against surface pollution. from agricultural practices, seawater intrusion into coastal aquifers . and by the processes of refining bauxite into alumina."

Karanjac conclused his paper by noting: "Today, it appears that Jamaica, which has the size of 10,991 sq km, may have problems developing enough good-quality water for its population of just over 2.7 million.. ground water in Jamaica is very vulnerable. There are no feasible sites for surface water storage and ground water remains the major source of water supply. Along the coast, aquifers are overabstracted and in the interior explorations and drilling are prohibitively expensive..

"In spite of sufficient ground water resources and relatively low level of its utilisation (less than 30 per cent), due to distribution of population, seawater intrusion .industrial, urban and agricultural pollution, and irregular rainfall Jamaica will have to introduce reverse osmosis on a reasonable scale. Rainwater harvesting will be another alternative, same as waste water treatment and reuse."

I quote Dr Karanjac at length to contradict the impression given by some others that the destruction of the Cockpit Country would not be a disaster for Jamaica's water supply. If, as Dr Karanjac says, we may have to go into reverse osmosis - the qualitative equivalent of distilling sea water, we are obviously in trouble. And this is before the Cockpit Country is despoiled.

The Government has announced that it is setting up yet another ministerial subcommittee to study the problem. I would suggest to the prime minister that matters have gone way beyond that: she needs to order a full public inquiry into the whole mess. Until that is done, no decisions can safely be taken.

And I would recommend to the prime minister and to all who love this country, read Clifton Yap's speech to the Montego Bay Rotary Club which was published in last week's edition of the Sunday Observer. It is the clearest exposition I have seen of the real reasons behind our calamitous state.

You can find it here: Jamaica's development - cause for much concern - jamaicaobserver.com

Meanwhile, this is my 555th column for this newspaper, which may mean nothing to anyone else, but gives me a great deal of 'almost hysterical' satisfaction.

17 December 2006

A Mess of Pottage?

Common Sense
John Maxwell

The Land of Look BehindThe proponents of unsustainable development have not had a good week. The people of Jamaica and the world are waking up to discover what they stand to lose if the Jamaica Bauxite Institute and the bauxite mining companies get their sweaty hands on the Cockpit Country - The Land of Look Behind.

From all over the world, support has been building for the preservation of this singular treasure. A few letters have been printed in the press and the talk shows are just beginning to reflect public anger. But perhaps the single most damaging fact to the cause of the JBI et al was the announcement, a few days ago, that a new cancer drug has been extracted and developed from an endemic Jamaican plant.

This is much bigger news than the simple fact that this drug is proving effective against certain forms of cancer. It is more important because this is the second major discovery of the treasures hidden in the Jamaican portion of the biosphere.

As I reported 253 columns ago, scientists had discovered "On the roots of the mangroves in Kingston Harbour and perhaps elsewhere in Jamaica, . a tiny animal, smaller than the first joint in the average adult's little finger, an orange-coloured soft-bodied creature which looks more like a flower than an animal. The name of this insignificant beast is Ecteinascidia turbinata - known to its admirers as a sea-squirt.

It is one of a number of marine animals which manufacture proteins that are proving effective in fighting cancer and may yield substances which may be able to defeat other diseases. A big Spanish drug company, PharmaMar, has bought the rights to a new drug derived from one of the sea-squirt's proteins.

"Early trial results have indicated that ET-743 may eventually play a role in treating certain soft tissue sarcomas and other cancers including advanced-stage breast, colon, ovarian and lung cancer, melanoma, mesothelioma and several types of sarcoma. Ecteinascidin not only shrinks and kills tumours, it also restricts cancer's ability to resist other drugs Infinite Injustice" (Infinite Injustice - March 17, 2002)

In another column, nearly a year later, I reported on the government's plans to devastate another priceless, world scientific resource - an unprepossessing wilderness place called Harris Savannah, just off the Doomsday Highway near May Pen, which one of the world's most noted botanists, Dr George Proctor, thinks is a botanical treasury of world importance.

"After rain, Harris Savannah is a botanical bonanza, full of species unknown until Proctor discovered them. Many are new to science. Apart from their intrinsic interest to botanists, some could be of profitable horticultural economic interest; others may contain substances which may lead to important medical or other scientific advances. Most of the world's standard medications are made from compounds first discovered in plants and other 'insignificant' forms of life." - (Treasure in the Badlands November 29, 2003)

In a press release two weeks ago, the head of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute described the campaign against the destruction of the Cockpit Country as 'almost hysterical' - which may or may not be a reference to the fact that so many active environmentalists in Jamaica are women.

I must confess that I too have a long history of 'almost hysteria' dating back, perhaps, to the time when Dr Lyew Ayee was a baby. This year makes 50 years since I led a successful campaign in Public Opinion weekly to force the Caribbean Cement Company to install electrostatic precipitators. These scrubbers recovered seven tons of dust daily, from the smokestack of the company which, until then, had been choking the lungs of Jamaicans high and low.

If that was 'almost hysteria', Dr Lyew Ayee can make as much of it as he wants. Campaigning for a National Minimum Wage (on Public Eye) and for disarming Jamaica and against the death penalty and against the rape of Hope Gardens may also have been 'almost hysterical.' I really don't care what Dr Lyew Ayee calls me or my allies. What we care about is what unsustainable development is likely to do to Jamaica.

For instance: It was reported, some years ago, that the NRCA had turned down a foreign exchange earning development project to build an incinerator in Jamaica to burn imported toxic wastes. I would like to ask Dr Lyew Ayee whether, had he been a member of the NRCA Board at the time, would he have voted for or against the proposal?

I would like to ask the question of several other people, including the former prime minister among others, because it is the sort of question which, in my view, separates the 'almost hysterical' from the sound, sober, reliable forward-thinking people who only have Jamaica's best interest at heart.

Water, water everywhere and .
In the Manifesto of the People's National Party in 1997, the party declared its commitment to "work towards creating a society of high moral values and attitudes; the party best able to unite the people into one common band marching to the goal of creating a better quality of life for all."

Lest it be misunderstood that the party was speaking about foreign exchange, the next sentence makes it clear what the PNP considered the components of a "better life".
"Protecting and conserving our island's resources is an imperative, if we are to preserve its natural features and beauty.
Man is dependent on the integrity of the environment and there is a sacred obligation to protect God's earth and to preserve the quality of life for future generations.

The PNP believes that orderly development can and must co-exist with a healthy respect for the natural resources that sustain development.

We have therefore pursued a collaborative national effort with the private sector and individual communities, to rescue areas of the environment that are under siege." [my emphasis]
The Cockpit Country is one of those areas now under siege and it may be the most important such area, worthy, as the government once believed, of being declared a world heritage site.

In 1997, the government was just four years into a commitment to ratify the SPAW Protocol of the Cartagena Convention. The founder of Greenpeace International, the late David McTaggart, told me he considered SPAW the single most effective piece of international legislation for the protection of habitat and life forms, and he made three visits to Jamaica to be assured by three different ministers of environment, that Jamaica would soon ratify SPAW.

Although the document itself is housed at the International Seabed Authority's Headquarters just a few hundred yards from Gordon House, where our parliament meets, the government has not seen it fit so far to honour its promise.

Jamaica is the only significant signatory not to have ratified SPAW and while the SPAW document lives in Jamaica, Jamaica's representatives to SPAW meetings are observers only, not members.

This is clearly sound, anti-hysterical behaviour.
But the governing party has clearly broken important promises to Jamaica, or at the very least, not remembered to fulfill them.
The PNP manifesto (p 49) made explicit promises in 1997: ". During our third term we will:

. Undertake a comprehensive programme to clean up the physical environment and to protect our beaches, watersheds, reefs and other sensitive ecosystems;

. revitalise our national parks and gardens and establish additional national and marine parks
.The new millennium is the time to reaffirm our responsibility to protect and enhance our environment, so that the country we hand over to future generations will be a better place to live in."
Pretty strong words, but the party was not content with that. On page 71, under the title: "Our Pledge" the party drew a line in the sand:

". . to protect and safeguard our environmental heritage, thereby protecting our fragile ecology for the benefit of future generations.

That, of course, sounds almost hysterical to me, given Hope Gardens and Long Mountain and Harris Savannah and the Doomsday Highway and Bloody Bay and Pear Tree Bottom and Point, and Palmyra and Winniefred Beach.

American Hysteria

On the website of the US Army Corps of Engineers, there is a fascinating document of 118 pages, including appendices etc.
This document is called Water Resources Assessment of Jamaica and is dated February 2001.

As a technical military document the assessment is, as might be expected, a dry, businesslike paper, all 118 pages of it. It even includes the latitude and longitude of every Jamaican locality mentioned in the text and you may be interested to know that the coordinates for Albert Town are 1817 N 07733 W.

The authors are very meticulous. There may be however, some cause for alarm in developer circles. All three specialists who carried out the assessments are geologists but since they are all women, there is clearly some possibility that their conclusions may be regarded as 'almost hysterical".

However: "This information may be used to support current and potential future investments in managing the water resources of the country and to assist military planners during troop engineering exercise and theatre engagement training. . in addition to assisting the military planner, this assessment can aid the host nation by highlighting critical need areas, which in turn serves to support potential water resources development, preservation and enhancement funding programmes.

Highlighted problems are the lack of access to water supply by much of the population, the density of the population in Kingston, the lack of wastewater treatment, and contamination by industrial processes associated with bauxite mining, sugar cane processing and agricultural activities."

As we know, dunder from sugar estates is often pumped into sinkholes, killing fish and causing widespread pollution of what could be drinking water. The fertilizer used on sugar cane in western Jamaica is one of the factors destroying the famous seven miles of Negril Beach and of course, we know, as I reported a few weeks ago, that the head of Jamaica's Water Resources Authority has reported on the pollution of the aquifer, big time, by bauxite effluent in St Elizabeth.

One of the problems with dealing with Dr Lyew Ayee is that some of what he says, if reported correctly, appears to defy common sense, if not science. He appeared to suggest that surface water would not contaminate the underground aquifer. The lady geologists from the Corps of Engineers say that the streams in the Cockpit Country areas "are fed and in some cases feed the interior karstic limestone aquifer." (p.18)
"For instance, the water in the upper reaches of the White River, may, in places disappear into the limestone aquifer and then rise several kilometres downstream. Drainage in this area is primarily underground and any precipitation is quickly channeled or absorbed into the subsurface."

Again, on page 19 they report that in the Cockpit Country "any water that runs off the central mountains is quickly channeled or absorbed into the subsurface" and they instance the Martha Brae River, the largest source of water on the north coast.
"The Moneague Blue Hole, located in the Dry Harbour Mountains Basin, was once a good freshwater source.

However, this has recently become contaminated. The contamination is believed to be from a bauxite lake, Mt Rosser Pond, which has a high sodium effluent.

"While this might seem to put paid to any further bauxite development in the area, we need to consider one additional point made by these highly trained geologists: "Surface water is generally fresh; however, some major threats to the water quality are from industry, human and animal wastes, insecticides, and herbicides. Most of the mineral industry is based on bauxite mining, and some of the bauxite produced is refined into alumina on the island. Bauxite mining is surface mining, which is land-intensive, noisy, and dusty.

Jamaica can produce about three million tons of alumina per year. The refining process creates a thick fluid called "red mud" which has high levels of sodium and hydroxide ions, iron oxides, and organic substances.

About one ton of red mud waste or residue will be produced from each ton of alumina. The land mass cannot accommodate this high volume of waste. This waste is often ponded into lakes, either man-made or karst depressions, with no consideration of the environmental effects.

The effluent is free to seep into the subsurface, or to mix with precipitation, creating caustic ponds. The disposal of the wastes from alumina processing is a major environmental problem. Discoloration, turbidity, and high coliform bacteria counts, due to the high organic content."

I hope you read that extract carefully. When I read it, one line jumped out and bit me:
"The land mass cannot accommodate this high volume of waste."

I think that this is a fact that many Jamaicans have known subconsciously for a long time, but we keep denying it, in the interest of foreign exchange.

I keep on referring to poor, tiny Nauru, that Pacific island composed largely of phosphate, fossilised seabird dung, which has been mined almost into non-existence. Those who are left on Nauru will soon have to leave forever, because their country is about to disappear beneath the waves.

In Jamaica, we have a slightly different problem. If, as they say, water is life, bauxite will soon make life impossible on this island. Life, that is, as we understand it.

If the developers have their way, we will be selling our birthright not for a mess of pottage, but a mess of red mud.
Esau, Esau, wherefore art thou Esau?"

10 December 2006

The Next Bad Thing

Common Sense
John Maxwell

One bright blue day in spring, about five years ago, I was standing in the parking lot of an Amsterdam hospital when I decided to look up at the plane passing above me. I was amazed to see that the sky was literally a checkerboard of cloud, contrails from the planes leaving Schipol airport in an absolutely regular grid pattern. It was one day I didn't carry my camera.

One of my aunts, now departed, used to believe that the trails left behind by high-flying planes must have an effect on the weather. I, full of juvenile cocksureness, attempted to disabuse her of this bizarre idea.

She was right. I was wrong.

In the last half-dozen years or thereabouts, scientists have discovered that the contrails of jet planes and other atmospheric pollutants have serious effects on the weather.

The Dimming of the Earth

The clinching evidence came on September 14, 2001, when, after all commercial planes in the United States had been grounded for three days, a scientist named David Travis discovered that 5,000 weather stations across the United States had recorded the same phenomenon - when the skies were clear, the average ambient temperature went up by more than one degree Celsius.

The Blue Swallowtail was fairly common in parts of the Blue and John Crow mountains
This finding correlated with observations by Dr Gerald Stanhill who had been measuring the amplitude of sunlight in Israel for nearly 50 years. He discovered that over the span of his observations, the average solar energy reaching the ground in Israel had dropped by 22 per cent. Another scientist, a German doctoral candidate named Beate Liepert working independently, found that something of the same sort had happened in Europe where the average decline was nine per cent. Russian scientists found that their solar energy levels had dropped by 30 per cent over five decades.

When scientists put all the pieces of this strange discovery together they realised that there was an explanation: the sun hadn't cooled, but soot, sulphur dioxide and other man-produced particles had reduced the solar radiation reaching the surface of the Earth by a considerable degree in the previous half century.

This realisation is enough to make the blood run cold; if pollution is keeping the temperature artificially low, then the estimates of global warming are far too conservative. The human race and all other living things are in much greater danger than anyone realised.

It soon became obvious that the buffering effect of the enhanced cloud cover was concealing the real extent of global warming. This meant that as we cleaned up our atmosphere, global warming would accelerate.

Scientists discovered that this effect, which Stanhill called the "Dimming of the Earth" held not only future disaster potential, it was already wreaking catastrophic damage here on Earth. The problem was that no one had recognised that because the damage was mainly being done to Africa.

The area south of the Sahara - the Sahel - and a wide swathe across Northern Africa into Ethiopia have always depended on a regime of rainless seasons followed by monsoons which replenish the lakes, watering holes and aquifers of these northern savannahs. Scientists deduced that the "Dimming" effect was the major agent in the African droughts which killed millions of people a decade ago. The human-induced cloudiness, exported from North America and Europe, was shielding the Sahel and Sudanese Africa from their monsoons, pushing the weather further south and condemning millions to death by starvation.

And what is worse, the effect will gradually extend across Asia, eventually displacing or even shutting down the monsoons on which India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and more than half the world's population depend.

Forward the Titanic!

The essential news from all this is that Global Warming is probably moving twice as fast as anyone predicted and that until and unless we manage to put brakes on it, we are headed for disaster in an even shorter time frame than we had thought.
Since cleaning up atmospheric pollution is working and is part of the anti-global-warming campaign, the situation will get worse long before it gets better.

The problem is that in the biosphere, minute changes have large effects over long periods. Global warming was predicted by Svente Aarhenius in 1896 and it was soon realised that any action to reverse warming takes a long time to have an effect. It is rather like the Titanic, propellers powering full astern, but the ship ploughing forward into the iceberg for another mile before it came to a stop. It took a long time for the propellers to overcome the inertial mass of the giant ship.

So too, if all the fires on Earth were turned off today, it would take another couple of hundred years before we were back to the temperatures of 1896. Of course, the situation 200 years from now will have only a passing resemblance to the Earth of 1896.

We have already done so much damage that although we may mitigate it somewhat, the biosphere - the living space or thin skin of the Earth in which all living things feed and breed - will be very different even from today's. Global warming will keep ploughing forward, like the Titanic, ripping great holes in the biosphere and condemning many of us and our descendants to death, as in the Sahel and in Ethiopia.

The results for places like Jamaica and the Caribbean are likely to be dread. If global warming is moving faster than we thought, the Greenland ice-cap may be provoked into terminal meltdown sooner, and together with the melting of the Ross Ice Sheet in Antarctica, an area bigger than France, will raise the sea levels around the world by seven to eight metres before my children reach my age. And it may also stop the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic circulation and produce a new Ice Age in parts of the Northern hemisphere.

This means that in Jamaica, all the beaches we know and desecrate today will be under water, as will the hotels built on them, Most of Savanna-la-Mar, Black River, much of Kingston and Old Harbour and all of Portmore will be visited only by fishermen and scuba divers.

The rise in sea level will affect the groundwaters of Jamaica, poisoning the aquifers of the St Catherine/Clarendon plains - already seriously compromised by over-pumping, and probably also those of South Manchester, St Elizabeth as well as the north coast.

Where I live in Stony Hill, the water has been turned off at night for the last 26 years, because there isn't enough St Catherine water to supply the thirsts and toilets of Havendale and upper St Andrew. Although there isn't enough water for Stony Hill, within a mile of the Hermitage Dam, confident developers are even now preparing to put in dozens of upscale mini-mansions with lots of bathrooms.

During the 1970s, as chairman of the NRCA I engaged in a long-running fight with Moses Matalon, then chairman of the Portmore Land Development Company as well as of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC), urging him to stop developing Portmore because all that I had read told me that the place was a potential deathtrap from flooding, hurricane and earthquake. I tried to enlist Michael Manley in my campaign, but he, unlike his father, was not an environmentalist and didn't see why environmental concerns should stop poor and middle-class people from getting houses.

The highest point in Portmore is the gas station at Independence City - six metres (eight feet) above mean sea level. Sea level rise of six to eight metres will also submerge parts of the Doomsday Highway and most of Kingston below North Street.

The UDC had a particular hostility to mangroves and mowed down many, destroying much of the fertile fish-breeding grounds of Dawkins Pond and Hunts Bay. The Port Authority has carried on where they left off and in addition, has been spreading toxic waste through their dredged landfills for the 'improvement' of Port Kingston, enabling us to manage even larger and more polluting ships.

The Blue Swallowtail

The time for these excesses is now clearly over, no matter what the development experts say. If my children won't be able to visit Savanna-la-Mar or Falmouth when they are my age, I promise that my ghost, if I can manage one, will come back to bedevil those of the guilty who are still alive.

All the information available to me, and I presume to the scientists and other experts employed by the Government, suggest that much of our so-called development is greed-driven and totally unsustainable.

If Mr Parris Lyew Ayee believes that he can relocate the flora and fauna of the Cockpit Country I would ask him to give us an explanation of how he would deal with just one species - the beautiful Blue Swallowtail butterfly.

The Blue Swallowtail is a seriously endangered species. It is one of the world's largest butterflies and is the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere. The nearest thing to it is in New Guinea. They are big enough to cover most of the palm of a normal hand. Once upon a time, the Blue Swallowtail was fairly common in parts of the Blue and John Crow mountains.

One of its favourite hangouts was near Roselle Falls on the St Thomas road, but it has almost completely disappeared from this area because of construction work there and the chopping down of the lancewood trees which are its main food supply. It now exists in significant numbers only in the Cockpit Country. This beautiful animal requires 100 per cent humidity to mature and will die if it is any drier.

Jamaica is a very special place for all sorts of pants and animals. In the Cockpit Country, which is the most special part of a special island, there are also large numbers of species which are found nowhere else. There are more varieties of snails in the Land of Look Behind than in the entire North American continent. The village of Auchtembeddie alone boasts more than 60 species.

The website cockpitcountry.com speaks, for instance, of fireflies or peenies and peeny-wallies as we know them
"Lampyrid fireflies (and Elateridae click beetles, known locally as peeny wallies and headlight beetles) have been a subject of both scientific and popular fascination. The first species of Jamaican fireflies to be mentioned in the literature were described by Patrick Browne in 1756.. at present 48 species are recognised taxonomically; 45 are endemic to Jamaica (94 per cent endemism). During the dry summer months, the hillsides of the Cockpit Country glow with the mate-attracting light dances of males.. [one of these fireflies] - Microdiphot cavernarum is known only from Windsor Great Cave (McDermott and Buck 1959). It is not known how many species of firefly occur in the Cockpit Country because little scientific collecting has been undertaken."

This fact alone should indicate how precious the Cockpit Country is and why we should preserve it in as pristine a state as possible. When I was a teenager I occasionally saw whole fields of 'blinkies' flashing in synch. One of the researchers at the Windosr research centre has also seen this fantastic display. I had thought we had lost it forever.

There is much too much to tell you about here; go to the website and find out more. You will be amazed at how rich the Cockpit Country is and why it is so important.

We have lost important treasures over the years, places like Roaring River Falls, acres of cataracts now tamed for a minuscule hydropower plant, we have lost two phosphorescent lakes, one called the Flashes at Hellshire and more recently, Glistening Waters in Falmouth, largely destroyed by the dredging of the wetlands and the building of a hotel.

There are other questions in my mind, about Lumsden Cave which (according to Patrick Browne) was a tourist attraction in the 18th century; and why Blowfire Hill was so called, and why there appears to be an Olmec pyramid between Point Hill and Moneague, unless a bauxite company has got there first. Some of these are sacred places, in the most universal meaning of the word.

When we were trying to keep the developers out of Hope Gardens a woman wrote from the United States, begging us to save it. She had been born and lived in the 'ghetto' she said, and Hope Gardens was the only place she could find tranquility and the space to study. She had become since then, she said, a full professor at an American university.

26 November 2006

From the Frying Pan into the Red Mud

Common Sense
John Maxwell

We are all Maroons now, whether we know it or not, wherever we are on the face of the Earth, whoever we are, black, white or in-between, male or female, human, as long as we are alive, animal or vegetable, on land or in the sea or the air, our very existence is under attack.

If we want to survive we have to take action. We need to resist the destruction of our own and our planet's integrity, resist degradation and deformity and protect ourselves from extinction.

We are under siege by a system gone mad, an economic system gone berserk, unaccountable to anyone and responsible to nothing because this system has no rules. It can do anything it wants to anyone, any living organism.

It is destroying oceans, mountains and entire ecosystems, and with giant dams, even slowing the revolution of the Earth. It destroys everything in its way, creating deserts out of fertile land, submerging low-lying lands, poisoning the air we breathe, altering weather systems in unpredictable ways and producing more destructive hurricanes and typhoons, even slowing down the mighty Gulf Stream itself, destroying the ice-cover at the North Pole, breaking up the ice continent of Antarctica into icebergs bigger than Jamaica and threatening life itself everywhere on Earth.

It is a system described by George Soros, one of the world's richest men, as "Gangster Capitalism". On the world stage it calls itself 'globalisation'. On the local stage, everywhere, its adherents call it 'Development'.
In this system, everything and everyone is for sale. Human dignity itself becomes a marketable commodity, affordable to those with enough money to buy themselves a little time.


In Vietnam 40 years ago, the Americans thought they were buying time and safeguarding progress. The Domino Theory was ascendant, and South-East Asia was to be made safe for democracy.

This ideal led to the killing and maiming of hundreds of thousands of people, some American, some Vietnamese. Here is the story of three Americans:
The son speaks: "The areas around us were heavily defoliated, so defoliated that they looked like burned-out areas, many of them. You know, almost every day that you were in riverboat patrol, you were being subjected to the Agent Orange factor."

The father speaks: "It is the case that the particular area in Vietnam in which my son's boat operated a great deal of the time was an area that was sprayed up on my recommendation, and in that sense it's particularly ironic that in a sense, if the causal relationship can be established, I have become an instrument of my son's own tragedy."
The son is Elmo Zumwalt III, son of Elmo Zumwalt II, Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations of the USA. Elmo the younger died at 42, destroyed by cancers induced by Agent Orange. His father died 11 years later, aged 79.

While serving as Commander of US naval forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 the elder Zumwalt had ordered the spraying of the defoliant Agent Orange in the Mekong Delta, seeking to deny cover to snipers on the river banks. The older Zumwalt killed his son. His son's genes, deformed by Agent Orange, severely damaged his grandson's nervous system resulting in serious learning disabilities. He is unable to speak for himself.

Hundreds of thousands of South-East Asians were also killed and maimed by Agent Orange and many of their children have been born and are now being born dead, disabled or hideously deformed.

Agent Orange is a mixture of two phenoxyl herbicides 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5 trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). These were developed for agro-industry factory farming to control broad-leaved weeds. In broad-leaved plants they induce rapid, uncontrolled growth, eventually killing them. There were used all over the world by the middle of the 1950s. At least one extension officer in Jamaica, my friend 'Buddha' Webster, was killed by exposure to this toxin.

It was later learned that a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), is produced as a by-product of the manufacture of 2,4,5-T, and was thus present in any of the herbicides that used it. This chemical is among those now present in the waters of Kingston Harbour, and as I pointed out five years ago, redistributed in the dredging of the harbour.

TCDD is a carcinogen, frequently associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). 2,4,5-T has since been banned for use in the US and many other countries. Its initial effects include liver damage, loss of energy and diminished sex drive.

During the 1970s, at the height of the destabilisation of the Manley government, I saw at Newport East, a big transformer built for JPS dropped onto the quayside, breaking open and spilling into the harbour gallons of dioxins, which remain there to this day.


Almost all the countries now described as 'developing' or 'underdeveloped' share one major characteristic: for hundreds of years their people, their lands, their resources have provided the raw materials for the development of the so-called 'developed world'.

As one American comic has said: "What is our oil doing underneath Iraq and Venezuela?"

Almost every war ever fought and most of today's wars and civil wars derive from the idea that the strong are entitled to the resources of the weak because the weak don't know how to use their resources appropriately. In this perspective, Jamaican farmland is not serving its proper purpose by producing food. Jamaican bauxite is necessary for 'progress' to make more planes, more frying pans, more garbage and to stiffen the GDP.

In Rio de Janeiro, 14 years ago, political leaders and bureaucrats from all over the world (including P J Patterson) met to agree on a new compact to define development or 'progress' if you will. They signed the Treaty of Rio, otherwise known as Agenda 21, and it committed the nations of the world to work together to assure the survival of the planet and all the living things which inhabit it by adopting and practising sustainable development.

The first paragraph of the preamble of the treaty is worth remembering: "Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being."
Environmentalists put it more crudely: We are living beyond our means, overdrawing our credit from the earth, destroying finite resources for greed.

The oil industry is only now waking up to the prospect that its behaviour may condemn all of us to a future of darkness, disease and destitution; only now beginning to recognise that there is an imminent threat of catastrophic changes because of global warming. Even Mr Bush (USA) and Mr Howard of Australia seem to be seeing the light. The Chinese seem to have some way to go before they emerge from their tunnel of development.

In the Rio statement on sustainable development, the world's leaders acknowledged "the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home" and proclaimed as the first principle of development that: "Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature."


Progress is today defined by measuring how much of one's patrimony can be safely delivered into the hands of developers. We offer them incentives to come to despoil our patrimony, abuse and deform our social relations and generally disinherit us. In gracious exchange they will make billions of tax-free dollars and demonstrate how different they are to the rest of the miserable and oppressed of the earth. In return we can go live in the Bronx.

All over the world, indigenous populations are counselled to be investor friendly, to assist the despoliation of their holy mountains in Chile; the poisoning of their streams and the deforestation of their landscapes in New Guinea; the displacement, murder and rape of thousands to make way for oil pipelines in Burma (Myanmar). The progress-bringers are destroying the glaciers of Iceland, the Jarrah forests of Western Australia and the communal tranquility of the Cedros peninsula in Trinidad.

The 2005 Yale/Columbia Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) showed Trinidad and Tobago as having the worst percentage of negative land impacts of 146 countries, yet Trinidad's government is ignoring the protests of its people who don't want any more pollution and degradation of their small and beautiful island.

Public protests in Chile, Brazil and Vietnam have kept proposed aluminum smelters out of those countries. The Trinidadian citizens group Cedros Peninsula United say that when they managed to obtain a copy of Alcoa's (secret) environmental clearance, jointly signed by Alcoa and the government's energy corporation, they found it full of omissions, inaccuracies and outright false statements.

The Barrick Corporation of Canada, like Alcoa, a transnational despoiler of the environment, is proposing to mine 500 tonnes of gold from mountain peaks in Chile. The Barrick corporation intends (Listen to This!) to relocate three glaciers (rivers of ice) to get at the gold.

As you might imagine, the people of Chile are not accepting this proposed rape of their environment.

The proposed assault on the Cockpit Country is not simply an assault on the sensibilities of a few environmentalists. It is an affront to the whole of humanity. When the great devastation comes we won't be saved by bauxite or alumina, but by the species finding shelter in the land of 'Look Behind' and similar refuges around the world.

A hundred years ago Jules Verne described the Gulf Stream as "the sea's greatest river [and] we must pray that this steadiness continues because…if its speed and direction were to change, the climates of Europe would undergo disturbances whose consequences are incalculable".

The sea's greatest river is slowing down, and the consequences have been calculated. A few weeks ago the British government published a report by Sir Nicholas Stern on the economic consequences of climate change. The report says the possibility of avoiding a global catastrophe is "already almost out of reach".

Stern says changes in weather patterns could drive down the output of the world's economies by up to £6 trillion a year by 2050, an amount equivalent to almost the entire output of the EU. This catastrophic prospect is the direct result of 'progress' as defined by people who have more money than conscience.

If the Gulf Stream slows to a stop or even if it simply continues to slow down, the effects on climate, farming and the populations of the world will be in one word, disaster.

Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize economist of 2001 and former chief economist of the World Bank says, "The Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change makes clear that the question is not whether we can afford to act, but whether we can afford not to act. [The report] provides a comprehensive agenda, one which is economically and politically feasible, behind which the entire world can unite in addressing this most important threat to our future well-being."

Neither Stern nor Stiglitz (nor Soros) is some wool-gathering tree-hugger. They are among the people recognised as the brightest in the world. I prefer to believe them rather than some public relations flack from any aluminium company or the Port Authority or any other agency of the Jamaican government.

The Spanish hotels on the North Coast are disasters in their own right and will soon become catastrophic losses because of sea level rise and hurricanes. And we will pay for that as we will pay for the 'Doomsday Highway' which is already obsolete.

As I pointed out in my column, People at Risk in February 2002, some of the geniuses of the Jamaican 'development' process tolerate no opposition to 'progress'. They will destroy our coral reefs and degrade the harbour to take bigger container ships - themselves extinct within 20 years. At that time I reported that the bottom of Kingston Harbour contained several extremely dangerous substances and warned that PAJ dredging would redistribute them unpredictably and in a manner which would almost certainly be hazardous to health, particularly to the people of Portmore.

I reported that among toxins present were: Arsenic, Cadmium, Dioxins (including derivatives of Agent Orange), Lead, Lindane, Hexachlorobenzene, Tetrachloroethylene and good, old Mad Hatter's Mercury.

"Progress' has brought civil war, genocide and HIV/AIDS to Africa. It has deformed our politics, driven away our best and brightest all in search of the Holy Grail of 'development'.

We can eat Trelawny yam and gungo peas. We can't eat Red Mud, although we may have to drink it, if progress has its way with the 'Land of Look Behind'. Prosit!

19 November 2006

My Grandfather's Bones

Common Sense
John Maxwell

My maternal grandfather's bones lie somewhere underneath the alumina refinery at Nain, safe at least from the caustic soda and soda ash which pollutes the air breathed by his neighbour's descendants, sickens their livestock and corrodes their aluminum roofs.

Beginning six decades ago, bauxite mining companies began to buy up huge areas of land in Jamaica, in areas where the earth was red, as red as blood when newly dug. The people from whom they bought the land were happy. There was no irrigation in St Elizabeth, St Ann and Manchester, and the land they sold was, in their opinion, not really good farmland. That was not true, as my friend Rolly Simms and his neighbours proved in Mocho, in Clarendon, where they grew huge crops of vegetables on bauxite land fertilised by chicken, cow and goat manure as they still do in parts of St Elizabeth.

That was before the bauxite companies came to Mocho in the 1960s, and their coming was in a way providential for the farmers there: they had been bankrupted by the failure of the Marrakech and Arawak hotels which had bought thousands of pounds of vegetables from them and went bankrupt without paying.

In January 1978, when I was chairman of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority, I dislocated my shoulder and nearly broke my neck falling out of a soursop tree in Hayes, Cornpiece, in Clarendon.

I was in the soursop tree because I wanted to see close-up, the damage the people said was caused to their roofs by the toxic and corrosive dust and fumes emanating from the Jamalco alumina refinery. I went to Hayes at the invitation of Hugh Shearer, MP for the constituency and former prime minister, who, in addition to explaining to me the problems of the people, confided to me what he said were the real reasons for the turmoil then rocking the Jamaica Labour party.

I was joking with Shearer as I climbed the tree, and didn't pay enough attention to the branch my foot rested on, which is why I fell out of the tree.

My shoulder was the least of our worries that day or in the weeks that followed. Nothing that Dudley Thompson, then minister of mining, or Shearer or I or could do, could persuade Jamalco to admit that their factory played any part in the misery afflicting the people of Hayes, Cornpiece.

"Even before community concerns escalated to public protest, the complaints of illness caught the attention of University of the West Indies medical student Patrece Charles-Freeman. After an exhaustive study of emissions and medical records within a 10-mile radius of the Halse Hall bauxite-alumina operation in neighbouring Clarendon parish, Charles-Freeman this month submitted a doctoral thesis documenting dramatically elevated incidence of asthma, sinusitis and allergies among those living close to the mining and refining operations.

In her study of 2,559 people, Charles-Freeman found that 37% of adults and 21% of children living within six miles of the facility suffered sinusitis. Asthma afflicted 23% of adults and 26% of children. Allergies, likewise, were markedly more prevalent among those who lived closest to the plant than in control groups seven to 10 miles distant." (Carol J Williams/Los Angeles Times, Oct 14, 2004) The Los Angeles Times story also reports: "One study under way at the International Centre for Environmental and Nuclear Sciences at the University of the West Indies is measuring how deeply bauxite and other heavy metals have penetrated the food chain. The centre's director, Gerald Lalor, notes that the soil around Mandeville is also replete with cadmium, mercury, lead, arsenic, uranium and other elements known to pose health risks to humans."

Jamalco denied liability. They have never admitted any environmental damage as far as I can discover.
They never have and they never will. A few days ago some of their top executives went to Mocho where the mining manager, Mr Driscoll said inter alia: "There are some things that should have been fixed, and I have said it before, a long time ago. But they haven't been (done) and we now have to fix it. I could sit here and try to apologise. I don't think it's going to serve us any purpose now."



According to a scientific paper written by the head of Jamaica's Water Resources Authority:
"Jamaica's bauxite/alumina industry produces a waste product known locally as red mud. This waste has been disposed of, for over 30 years since the plants were constructed, in unsealed mined-out pits within the karstic limestone.

The karstic limestone is the principal aquifer in the island and supplies 80% of the island's water supply. The waste is more than 85% water, is highly caustic and rapidly infiltrates to the groundwater table. Groundwater contaminated by red mud shows increased sodium, pH and alkalinity concentrations. Monitoring of groundwater around the four (4) processing plants in the island has indicated contamination of water resources.

Approximately 200 million cubic metres (MCM) of groundwater have been contaminated and another 200 MCM is at risk of contamination. The red mud ponds are in the direct path of groundwater flow and pose a serious threat to groundwater reservoirs and consequently the groundwater reserves of the island. (My bold face.) Relocation of the ponds would not remove the threat " (Abstract: "Contamination of water resources by the bauxite alumina operations in Jamaica -Basil Fernandez.
(For comparison, The Mona Reservoir holds about 800 million gallons of water. 200 million cubic metres is about 40 billion gallons of water, enough to fill 80,000 reservoirs the size of Mona.)

Since they began operations half a century ago, the bauxite companies have mined perhaps five thousand hectares (12,000 acres) of Jamaican soil under laws which theoretically compelled them to restore the land to its original state after the bauxite was extracted. If you fly over Jamaica tomorrow you will be able to see huge wounds in the flesh of our country, from which bauxite was extracted and the topsoil never replaced. That land is sterile, and you can make your own estimates of how much production has been lost in the years since the earth was ripped and torn to make frying pans and planes and lots of money for the financiers who owned the aluminum companies.

If in all those years the bauxite companies have made any unsolicited contribution to the welfare of this country or its people, I would like to know. There have been public relations gestures, such as the establishment of a chair in the Environment at University of the West Indies.


The displacement of people from bauxite land disturbed not only the bones of our forefathers but also disrupted the cultures of our people. Many flooded into Kingston, to create huge and murderous slums. Some went abroad, taking their energy and skills with them. These days, their widow's mites, repatriated from the United States and Britain, contribute more to our national income than does the bauxite which chased them away. And most of the bauxite contribution is only notional anyway. What actually remains in Jamaica is picayune. More especially since a few years ago a leading light in the trade union movement called for Alcoa to be given a 'bly' by the people of Jamaica. They were paying too much tax!!! Mr Patterson agreed.

The CEO of ALCOA, the world's largest aluminum producer, last year received remuneration of US$4.4 million (J$290 million) a base salary of US$1.3 million, plus a $1.6 million cash bonus, along with $1.5 million in restricted stock. Alcoa's shareholders spent another $200,000 paying for, among other items, some of his taxes and club dues. The company's revenues for 2005 exceeded US$26 billion. It was to this CEO and this company that Jamaica made its essential contribution -the Widow's Mite indeed to support a man who gets one million Jamaican dollars for every day he works.


The mining company does not only destroy the land from which it extracts its wealth. The roads it carves into the mining areas open up the forests to loggers, woodcutters, fire-stick harvesters and charcoal burners. The collateral damage is several times the damage done directly by the mining companies.

In the 1970s when I saw from the air some of the craters created by bauxite mining, I asked Dudley Thompson whether we could not seal the bottoms of some of these excavations so that they could retain water for farmers and function also as public fish farms.

When he asked the Jamaica Bauxite Institute he was told that the mining companies were entitled to all the bauxite in every deposit and that they were determined to extract every last ounce. This meant that no clay would be left to seal the holes and most of the water they caught would simply be lost.

So we lose production and we lose water. But there is more, much more.

According to ALCOA's annual report, plans are in place to double production at Jamalco to at least 2.8 million tons per year of alumina, "making it among the world's lowest-cost refineries". That's why they needed an ease, a 'bly', the widow's mite. Without that, they probably couldn't afford it.

What the annual report does not say is that between the Jamaica Bauxite Institute and ALCOA, there has been a plan kept secret for 13 years, to build a million-ton a year alumina refinery in the middle of Jamaica's most ecologically and environmentally valuable real estate.

This kind of threat is not peculiar to us. In Australia, ALCOA is busy destroying the jarrah forests in Western Australia. In Iceland they are wrecking priceless glaciers, canyons and lakes and blighting the country's unique landscape to build a hydropower plant and aluminum smelter. In Trinidad they want to build power stations and smelters against the will and wishes of the people. And the company's biggest refinery in Rockfield Texas is the worst polluter in Texas and is abstracting the common water supply for sale to townships of its choice. The secret behind ALCOA's dirty air: the Rockfield refinery is located on a huge seam of soft brown coal lignite. And burning lignite is like burning dirt.

Unfortunately for us, and probably unknown to the government, there is a huge deposit of lignite in the Cockpit Country.


As I pointed out in a previous column (Land of Look Behind) the Cockpit Country is a riot of biodiversity and one of the most precious places on the planet because of this. The Cockpit Country is a living laboratory for the study of evolution and, unlike the Galapagos Islands it is relatively easily accessible to scholars and students and to people who simply want to enjoy the wilderness. Of course, when we protect the Cockpit Country, we need to protect its integrity, limiting access to some parts to scientists and qualified researchers. There is enough of this treasure to go round for millennia but not for bauxite.

What is planned, whatever the developers say, is nothing less than the total destruction of a priceless resource for a polluting alumina refinery, the destruction of Rio Bueno harbour and the world-famous coral cliffs above and below the waterline. Below the waterline are corals and an unimaginable wonderland of aquatic life, already threatened by climate change/global warming, and about to be sentenced to death by so-called development.

Some people just do not understand that some of us are unwilling to swap our culture and scientific treasures for just a few million more frying pans or a few thousand more Boeing 747s.

Unfortunately, what is being planned for the Cockpit Country is part of a massive degradation of the parish of Trelawny in the name of development. The developers are hoping to compromise the prime minister by involving her in such pagan rites as the groundbreaking for the latest Spanish disaster-by-the-sea.

Mrs Simpson Miller needs to advise herself urgently. She needs to round up the developers and force them to disgorge their secret plans and feasibility studies, and to seek advice as well from scientists from Caribbean universities and farther afield. What is at stake is much more important than we know.

We risk making world-class buffoons of ourselves if we continue on this totally anti-environmental, anti-ecological, anti-civilisation course.

The prime minister needs to know that 13 years after we signed it, the SPAW protocol, which forbids such obscenities, is still not ratified by Jamaica. Alone, of all the significant countries of the wider Caribbean, Jamaica has not ratified the protocol. Yet, ironically, the protocol is officially housed at the Seabed Headquarters at the bottom of Duke Street almost within sight of Gordon House.

There is an island (the last I heard) called Nauru, in the South Pacific. Like Jamaica, Nauru was composed almost entirely of a valuable mineral. In the case of Nauru the resource was phosphate, the fossilised excrement of seabirds. The island was ravaged for its guano; its people had no say in what happened. Now, they are looking for a roost somewhere. The mining has reduced Nauru to its bare bones, and global warming and sea level rise will soon conceal the crime.

We have nowhere else to go.

29 October 2006

Journalism and Other Strange Practices

Common Sense
John Maxwell

If you'd asked me two weeks ago how I thought the US midterm elections would go, I would have told you I expected the Democrats to win the House handsomely and the Senate by a small margin. The catalyst, I thought, was the sudden explosive decompression of Mr Jim Foley, the Congressman from Florida's Gold Coast whose sexual harassment of Congressional pages had just hit the fan.
But of course, I was reckoning without that Hippocrates of Sanctimony, President Bush's confidante, chief adviser and fondly nicknamed 'Turd Blossom' - the ineffable Karl Rove.

And of course, I am hobbled by the sad fact that, as Generalissimo Rumsfeld opined this week, "No one can predict the future with absolute certainty". He too is obviously reckoning without Mr Rove, who told a querulous journalist this week that he didn't expect any real change in the electoral geography of the United States anytime soon, as he, unlike the journalist, consulted 68 polls every day as against the mere dozen or so available to journalists and lesser mortals.

According to 16 of the most trusted US polls, samples taken in October put the generic Republican Party vote no higher than 41% with the generic Democratic vote no lower than 49%. In the polls, the percentage lead for the Democrats varies from nine points in the rightwing Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll to 23% in the USAToday/Gallup poll.

According to the RealClear Politics (RCP) blog, its sampling of nine of the major polls puts the average of the Republican vote at 37.3% - and the average democratic vote at 52.3% an advantage for the Democrats of 15.9%. The RCP sample discloses that President Bush's job approval rating ranges from a high of 40% in ABC and Fox polls to a low of 35% in the Newsweek poll. The average approval rating for Mr Bush in the nine majors polls is 38.4%.

One would imagine that with such substantial leads it would be impossible for the Democrats to lose, but, as the Republicans demonstrated in Ohio, two years ago, and in Florida four years before that, a determined Secretary of State can do wonders with bad numbers and rigged voting machines, with a little help from disfranchisement programmes and other ways of circumventing the democratic process.

Most scholars of the US system are clear that the GOP stole both the 2000 and the 2004 Presidential elections. As General Boykin famously said, it was God and not the people who put Mr Bush in the White House, rather like Maradona's claiming the hand of God that won the World Cup match for Argentina against England in 1986.

The science of opinion sampling has developed to the point that voters' intentions may be predicted with a considerable degree of accuracy. And in 2004, the predicted results were apparently confirmed by exit polls, when voters were asked immediately after voting, to say for whom they voted.

It is a curious fact that the longer after voting the voters are questioned, the bigger the likelihood that the result will swing more and more to the actual winner. When people know who has won, they tend to say that they voted for that person even if they hadn't.

According to the exit polls in Florida and Ohio in 2004, Kerry won both states. In exit polls immediately, after voting, most voters said they voted for Kerry but polls taken a few days later gave the electors' choice as George Bush. This result is so unlikely that statisticians consider it impossible.

Part of the problem, and it is a huge part, is the fact that a great many Americans will be voting electronically, that is, by computers. Unfortunately, every study conducted so far has proved that the machines used in the electoral process in the United States are to say the least, unreliable and easily compromised by evildoers.

The software used in the voting is proprietary, so that the states, the clients who are paying for the process, have no right to inspect the machines to see whether they work properly. In addition, in most states the voter does not get a receipt for his vote, so that it is impossible to check whether the votes were properly recorded by the software.

All of this makes the next elections a potentially explosive issue in the United States.
In Mexico some weeks ago, the candidate of the left was able to attract massive crowds to the capital to protest against what they thought was a stolen election. The anger seems to have subsided and Mexico City's streets are once again open to ordinary traffic. But what would happen in the United States, especially in populations so polarised by the president and the arrogant and corrupt behaviour of his party?

There are important and volatile minorities in several cities which may not take too kindly to the prospect of another two years of rule by Mr Hastert and his cronies and there are even bigger constituencies who are angry at the president for the war in Iraq and the inexorably mounting toll of death and human destruction.

When the swing against a party is as wide and deep as it is against the Republicans, ordinary people have a pretty good idea of who is likely to have won; people talk, exchange stories and are well aware of the possibility for crooked manipulation.

An electorate which is bedevilled by rising unemployment, watching their jobs disappear overseas, losing their capital invested in the houses and oversubscribed to the banks, may not behave like a volatile tropical mass, but they may be even more dangerous.

People realise that a large part of their liberty has been taken away by the president who speaks of distributing freedom and liberty abroad, that the money which could be paying for education and health care is being incinerated and atomised by the minute in Iraq and Afghanistan and that their taxes are being frittered away by corrupt politicians and contractors in an unnecessary war which is costing $2,000,000,000 a day.


The pathetic behaviour of the US press is, at least, somewhat counterbalanced by a few brave men and women, some of them even in places like the New York Times but mostly in blogs on the internet. In Jamaica we depend on a few radio and TV stations and even fewer newspapers.

The Star, which claims the largest circulation in Jamaica, has never been a paragon of journalistic virtue. This week however, it outdid itself in crass vulgarity and horrific mischief making.

I have personally never seen anything as bone-headedly stupid and irresponsible as Wednesday's Star, which carried a picture of Prime Minister Simpson, apparently at prayer, hands clasped, head bowed, facing a headline which occupied half a page and proclaimed in 120 point type- 1.5 inches high: "Dreamer woman envisions...Portia in a bloody room".

And on page three the headline was repeated in smaller type (inch-high 72 point Tempo) with an unforgivably stupid and mischievous story about some delusional 'evangelist' who alleges that she has been having bad dreams, starring the prime minister.

The dreamer was asked by the incredibly credulous reporter to interpret the dream and the prophet/dreamer/"anointed messenger of God" obliged with a farrago of superstitious garbage, all faithfully reproduced in the Star.

Like most 'prophets', this woman claims to have foreseen various dramatic disasters, except that there is apparently no record of these prophecies.

People in politics can generally expect to be traduced in all sorts of ways, but invoking witchcraft is probably a new departure for this country's newspapers.

That same day a caller to Wilmot Perkins' talk-show alleged that 'Portia' was responsible for the killing of his relatives 20 years ago, when she campaigned near where the caller lived. This idiocy was permitted by the host, no doubt for good and sufficient reason.

After which, it is almost picayune to refer to the high-minded nonsense being talked about attacks by the government on Freedom of the Press.

Press freedom belongs to the people and is supposedly their guarantee that they will be able to share and receive news, which is in their interest, which is accurate and useful and conducive to their survival and prosperity. Spying on the prime minister is not a part of freedom of the press. The press has no right to make mischief or to behave like a 'Peeping Tom'.

I cannot imagine how all the high-minded hypocrisy about this case can be justified. Long ago, reporters were barred from the Hansard box in Gordon House because they interfered with the work of those who recorded the proceedings. Photographers have to get specific permission to take pictures and their vantage points have always been agreed on generally, in consultation with the Clerk of the House.

Parliament is not a street-corner or a park, and there are rules which must be obeyed. When the media bosses some time ago made a demonstration in Gordon House claiming an attack on Press Freedom they were both silly and ill-advised. The Press more than most, damages its real interests by crying wolf at the slightest hint of a lap dog.


Mr Ken Jones, a man I first met when we both worked at Public Opinion as reporters, delivered himself in the Gleaner this week of some opinions on press freedom. I have time to take issue with only two of his allegations.

First, he regards the JLP government's persistent attempts to silence Public Opinion between 1963 and 1965 as petty stuff, and not really an attack on Freedom of the Press. I beg to differ, since I was in the middle of that issue; one of my contributors, a University lecturer named Bill Carr, was being threatened with deportation, while I was threatened with prison and worse by people like the prime minister, the attorney general and others, in Parliament and outside.

When a government goes as far as prohibiting advertising in a newspaper and forbidding civil servants to buy it for their personal use, that seems to me very much like an attack on press freedom. It certainly was an attack on me and on the jobs of the 40 or so others who worked at City Printery, whose excellent services were proscribed by the government. Government-related institutions such as the UWI and the Jamaica Agricultural Society were forbidden to have their printing done by the printery.

More than a dozen years later - in 1978 - when I was editor of the paper for the second time, somebody burned it to the ground. In the 1960s, equally mysterious forces had also burned down the left-wing Abeng.

Having dismissed the trifling incidents at Public Opinion, Ken Jones tells a story, which defies belief. According to him, during the 1970s, PNP types raided the offices of the JLP Voice and" cut out the tongue" of an employee there before "striking him dead".

I believe Mr Jones owes us all further and better particulars. And I believe that the Gleaner and the Star owe Jamaica and the prime minister some serious apologies.

In the public interest and its own self-protection, I belief the Press needs to discover what Press Freedom really means.