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.