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.


Post a Comment