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.