Op-Ed

Consider This | Falling on deaf ears, pt. 2

“Have you heard the news today?

People right across the world

Are pledging they will play the game

Victims of a modern world

Circumstance has brought us here

Armageddon’s come too near…

Foresight is the only key

To save our children’s destiny

The consequences are so grave…”

– “When You Gonna Learn?”, by Jamiroquai

As we noted last week in part one of this four-part series, in his three-year ministry, Jesus of Nazareth provided 33 parables that were memorialized in four Gospels.

In each of the parables, Jesus conveyed extraordinary and timeless truths.

Their impact and enduring effectiveness lie in making deeper theological truths and life lessons accessible to all.

In his Gospel, Matthew admonished us that, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”

Two thousand years after Jesus’ ministry, we are constantly bombarded with modern-day examples of lessons from which we would learn, if only we would listen.

Last week, we addressed the lessons that we should have learned from our over-reliance upon and the homogeneous nature of our primary industry: tourism

Therefore, this week, we would like to consider this — are many of the lessons to be learned that we daily confront falling on deaf ears?

This week, we will address the lessons that we should have learned about our environment, which to date have also fallen on deaf ears.

Our environment

Protecting the environment is not only good for the natural world around us.

There is a very distinct correlation with our own personal and national welfare and that of our surroundings.

As anthropologist Margaret Mead observed, “We won’t have a society if we destroy the environment.”

When considering how best to protect our environment, we must appreciate that the environment of The Bahamas is unique, with both a land-based environment and that of the ocean that surrounds our many islands.

Both ecosystems have distinctive requirements for their optimum health.

However, we must always be aware that the mighty blue sea that encircles the shores of the fragile landmasses that comprise our archipelago has a significant influence on the well-being of those islands, and that what happens on those islands also dictates the health of the ocean in many ways.

On land

Many careless things are done, almost daily, that wreak short and long-term damage to the world around us.

They range from the simplest things, which should also be the easiest to correct, like throwing food wrappers and bottles from car windows and otherwise dumping garbage on the streets of our cities and settlements.

The post-regatta and post-Junkanoo venues are cases in point that take army-sized clean-up crews to address. What would happen without the work of those crews?

In the case of the regatta sites, much of the paper, plastic and other kinds of garbage would wind up in the sea.

Garbage left unattended at Junkanoo renders shopping on Bay Street far less attractive than it is already, confirming the truth of Bernie Sanders’ observation: “Good environmental policy is good economic policy.”

Another thing that harms our land environment is the discarding of derelict cars and appliances along the roadsides. Besides the affront to the beauty of our islands that this kind of wanton dumping provides, the toxic chemicals that leach from the automotive and appliance accumulation into our soil, our water table and our ocean present a very grave danger to people, plants and animals.

We also need to be much more proactive regarding our “dump” and not only the one on New Providence.

Our daily garbage piles up at an astonishing rate as our society becomes more and more materialistic, with almost everything we use coming in disposable packaging.

The days of saving and reusing string or aluminum foil or using cloth towels and handkerchiefs instead of their paper counterparts are long gone.

Our “disposable society” has put incomparable pressure on waste facilities all over the globe.

Still, nowhere is it more noticeable than our islands where land is at a premium, and dumps do not have room to expand.

Therefore, we need to understand how to make our dumps function more in line with what is good for our environment. Recycling cannot be postponed to the future; it must become our present unless we want this ubiquitous problem to persist.

While there are more than enough residents who are not careful with our environment, we must not allow others to believe they can come into our country and behave irresponsibly toward our delicate land.

We cannot allow the abuse of our precious land.

Mistreatment of the environment on one island will undoubtedly reverberate throughout the other islands and into the ocean.

The ocean

It is easy to understand why generations of people believed that the vast ocean could never be damaged, that it would always be able to repair itself and its inhabitants and that it would go on forever, providing nourishment for those who depended upon it. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The naive belief that the quantity of fish will never diminish and that we will always have conch is being shattered daily.

We constantly hear reports of overfishing by Bahamian fishermen and foreigners poaching in our waters.

Conch is becoming endangered by the thoughtless harvesting of juvenile conch and poor management of that fishery. These conditions are necessitating a closed season for various species.

Daily, we are confronted by what is increasingly becoming an unhealthy ocean, full of plastic and other garbage that is adversely affecting the animals who call the ocean home, as well as industrial runoff that poisons the very water in which these animals live.

Once again, by exercising greater care of where we throw our garbage, both on land and while we are at sea, we can protect both ecosystems that once seemed infinitely impervious to injury.

The threats that may come from oil exploration, both to our ocean’s water quality and to the delicate fish and mammals who live there and who are very negatively impacted by the annoying sounds of drilling, need to be thoroughly examined.

Apart from the grave danger of an oil spill at sea, we should understand the extent of the incalculable damage this kind of foreign investment can pose to our domestic environment.

We should insist that our leaders do not proceed with this kind of venture until weighing all the pros and cons. All the money that an oil strike would provide the country will not repurchase a damaged ocean or destroyed seashore. When those are gone, they are gone.

A floating environmental threat

There is another grave threat to our environment that scientists are only just beginning to study in-depth.

A recent undercover report by CNN revealed that, “Cruise ships generate high levels of air pollution that could endanger the health of passengers, staff and port communities…”

Assistant Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health Ryan Kennedy (the author of the report) says that concentrations of particulate matter that he measured on the decks of four Carnival Cruise ships over two years, including cruises sailing from Florida to The Bahamas, were “comparable to concentrations measured in polluted cities, including Beijing and Santiago…”

Several years ago, another undercover investigation on Britain’s P & O Cruises that was published in The Independent, found that, “The cruise ships are harming the environment. One cruise ship can emit as much particulate matter as a million cars in one day.”

The question must be asked: what can be done about this pollution that clearly damages our environment, both land and sea.

Although the cruise industry has said they are trying to address this situation, is it happening quickly enough or has the damage already been done?

What is The Bahamas government doing to address this potentially devastating phenomenon?

Global warming/climate change

Whatever you call it, our weather is changing all over the globe.

While it may be a natural change that would have happened anyway, it appears that the decisions of humans are exacerbating this change: excessive consumption of unfiltered fossil fuels and other willful damage to the environment is pushing the natural world to its limits.

Why should this worry us here on our islands?

The New York Times details a study that found that, “Greenland’s enormous ice sheet is melting at such an accelerated rate that it may have reached a ‘tipping point’ and could become a significant factor in sea-level rise around the world within two decades.”

The study found that ice loss has increased fourfold between 2003 and 2012.

Why is this important to us?

If the entire Greenland ice sheet were to melt, sea levels would rise globally by 20 feet – which would be sufficient to inundate much of lower Manhattan and flood the National Mall in Washington, D.C., as well as, perhaps, many islands of The Bahamas.

Luke Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University, gives us a little hope.

“We may be able to control how rapidly the ice sheet changes in the future,” he says.

“By limiting greenhouse gas emissions, we limit warming, and thus also limit how rapidly and intensely Greenland affects our livelihoods through sea-level rise.”

He added, “That, it seems, is our call to make.”

Are we listening, or are his warnings falling on deaf ears?

Conclusion

It is our call to make. And we had better make it soon, especially here, because, in the words of Evo Morales, the former president of Bolivia, “[H]uman beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.”

Next week, we will examine whether our urgent appeal for economic diversification is also falling on deaf ears.

• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to pgalanis@gmail.com.

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