The Caribbean Environment Has Many Problems But Even Greater Opportunities

Our Environment is in Danger

When we look at our precious environment, the first responses are: worry, confusion, disaster, sorrow, problems; ‘how could we’ manage to destroy so much?

Rarely do we see the enormous opportunities that our precious environments provide.

In fact, ask any class of students at any age, especially in a developing country: look around you, what do you consider to be the most valuable thing? I guarantee you that almost zero will reply – the air that we breathe.

Our (His) Story has Foremost been About Exploiting Our Environment

Let’s face it: when we talk about sugar and sugar plantations in many small island states such as Barbados and Mauritius, this was not just about slavery and producing sweet raw materials to feed industrialised factories in Western countries. It was as much about exploiting natural resources of arable land, water, warm climates and adequate rainfall, not to mention the ‘cheap’ slave labour. Even our famous tourism industry is one of the major consumers of our environment – sun, sand, sea, wood, water, wild animals, weather, warmth and even women!

Most Conflicts in the World Have been Fought Over the Environment

Consider also, that almost all major conflicts [1] in the world (national, regional and international) were fought over access to raw materials – from water in Tibet (China); land in Haiti (USA and Europe); Oil (that fuelled everything from cars to airplanes and plastics) in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, the Emirates); rare earth (needed in electronics) in Afghanistan; cobalt (needed for batteries) in the Congo; fresh produce (Latin America).

exceptional caribbean parrot fish

The Environment is an Industry in its Own Right

The Caribbean environment is therefore significant. The environment is an industry in its own right. The environment has to be harnessed to create sustainable livelihoods for those most at risk and those that are in danger of unsustainable usage, but see themselves as having no other choice.

The aim of this exposé is to demonstrate the value and importance of the environment as an industry in its own right, with an amazing value chain, that can be harnessed to create sustainable livelihoods for those at risk and for small island developing states (SIDS).

Let’s Start by Understanding Valuing Our Environment

Without the environment, we are nothing and have nothing. In fact, we will be in deep trouble. Without our environment, and the fresh clean air that it continuously provides every minute of the day, we will all be dead.

From the air that we breathe, to the ocean and its refreshing waters, the rains, storms, hurricanes and tornados (that often severely remind us that our environment is a living creature), our environment is our most precious resource and asset. But destroy our environment and we have a major liability for us and for our future generations – a liability that our younger ones will find very difficult to repay and that threaten their very existence. Yes, our poor environment will kill us all.

Yet, conserving and preserving our environment and oceans, can be a most rewarding and fruitful enterprise of all.

The Caribbean Sea is Our Most Valuable Asset

The entire Caribbean land area is 239,681 km² [2], just under the size of the United Kingdom at 241,930 km² [3].  By contrast, the Caribbean Sea is 2,754,000 km², almost a dozen times larger than of its land mass!  The Caribbean Sea is one of the largest salt water seas in the world.  And yet we take so much of it for granted.

When we consider the Caribbean environment, it is important think beyond what is right under our noses – our homes, our lands, roads, industries, waste, etc.. For, our biggest assets are our OCEANS. At times, our oceans and seas are ‘out of sight and out of mind’, as we go about our daily activities and chores. But our ocean is the single most important and precious of our assets. This is especially for Small Developing Island States (SIDS).  There is a grave danger that because we do not adequately value, understand and respect our precious resources, we ‘trade’ them and literally ‘give them away’, for next to nothing.  We trade our precious oceans for our vote to allow the Japanese (and Iceland) to continue whaling; we trade fishing rights in our oceans for a ‘soft’ Chinese loan to build a port, a ferry terminal, an airport, a road, a hotel, a Presidential Palace, a Performing Arts Center, an all-inclusive resort – a loan that, as it turns out, may not be so soft [4]

We Clearly do not Value, Understand and Respect Our Environment Enough

And all this while, it is our trading ‘partners’ that understand only too well the value of our oceans, and have the means and the capabilities to exploit them (with their huge and growing populations’ appetites for fish, as well as high-tech fishing complexes and industries on the sea).  We give them the ‘rights’ to plough our seas, leaving nothing in its wake. There is no monitoring and no one really knows how much is destroyed, or low long it will take to replenish, if that is at all possible.  Meanwhile our own fishermen starve and continue not to have the capacity to feed their families and send their kids to good schools.

The question is: Should fishing rights in Caribbean waters be ‘up for grabs’? There is so much lack of transparency that no one really knows the value of what one has given up to receive investments and soft loans.

We need to Wake Up and Listen to the Cries of our Oceans

It is about time that we wake up to the cries of our oceans. We thought that piracy was over, but there is a big seaspiracy going on right beneath our noses. I really wonder why there has been so much of effort trying to stop the flow of marijuana (for how can a natural, organic, unprocessed plant that grows in your own backward be ‘bad’ for you) and so little effort to find and prosecute the real pirates of the Seas.

marijuana ganja hemp cannabis canabis

Finally, Should it Really and Only be About Electric Cars?

And while we are it, we should also wonder why so much global effort is trained on electric cars (even in the Caribbean) and we ignore the even bigger threats – farming and eating meat and plundering fish!  Is it also because those European city-dwellers can only see and care about what’s under their own noses – greener cars? 

[1] In many instances, geo-political interests combined with economic interests to such an extent that it was not clear, at least from media coverage, which was more important – spreading democracy or seeking favourable access to precious raw materials/environment.  Such included the fear of the winds of black freedom from slavery spreading (Haiti); fear of the winds of socialism and communism (from Cuba) spreading to Central America (Nicaragua, Chile, Guatemala) and the Caribbean (Grenada).

[2] Worldometer

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_and_dependencies_by_area

[4] The Chinese have amassed a great trade surplus, thanks to our never-ending appetite for cheap goods. The Chinese can afford to provide cheap loans.  But even with their seemingly benevolent gestures, they try to deliver full-service, ‘turnkey’ projects where the furnishings and supplies are often over-priced, to compensate for their cheaper construction bids that put local architects, engineers and builders out of business. And they often link these ‘soft’ loans to fishing rights.  In addition, their long-term vision is to create beautiful living spaces and business opportunities for their own people. That is why most ‘cheap’ construction workers that go to Africa and the Caribbean to build projects never return home.  And this is why the Chinese presence anywhere is accompanied by Chinese restaurants and shops.  They start innocently and quietly, but soon, many local small businesses disappear.  Nothing is wrong with the Chinese having a long-term vision and business acumen, but African and Caribbean countries must enter negotiations and make developmental decisions with their Eyes Wide Open (EWO), and even better, with their own long term strategic development plans.  And only, if possible, with the peoples’ interests at heart.

Author

Dr. Auliana Poon

Dr. Auliana Poon is the founder and Managing Director of Leve Global and Exceptional Caribbean.

Auliana loves the Caribbean and believes in its people. Her personal mission is to change the world; to transform our societies. And this is precisely why she has spearheaded Exceptional Caribbean – a continuing mission to elevate tourism, trade and lives.

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