Letters & Opinion

Our Environment in a New Day

Image of Earl Bousquet
Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

World Environment Day [WED] was established by the UN General Assembly in 1972 on the first day of the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, resulting from discussions on the integration of human interactions and the environment.

Two years later, in 1974 the first WED was held with the theme “Only One Earth”.

WED is the United Nation’s principal vehicle for encouraging awareness and action for the protection of our environment.

It has been a flagship campaign for raising awareness on emerging environmental issues — from marine pollution, human overpopulation and global warming, to sustainable consumption and wildlife crime.

WED has grown to become a global platform for public outreach, with participation from over 143 countries annually.

Each year, WED has a new theme that major corporations, NGOs, communities, governments and celebrities worldwide adopt to advocate environmental causes.

The 2018 theme was ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ and for 2019 it is ‘Air Pollution’.

I take it that Saint Lucia is one of the 143 countries committed to observing WED every year; and yesterday morning, before starting this article, I scoured my usual local media sources for news related to WED 2019.

But, as always, I felt like we live here in a world of a different environment.

For starters, I couldn’t get an expected 2019 WED Statement from the Minister Responsible for the Environment. I did see, however, a news item indicating the ministry has now issued a timeline for implementation of its WED 2018 promise to ban use of Styrofoam products here, for which the schedule can now go into 2020 — or 2021.

I expected, however, that by the end of yesterday there’d have been several statements by many entities here and everywhere to reiterate commitment to defense and protection of The Environment through different ways and means.

Each year, I try to measure how Saint Lucia and the rest of the Caribbean measures-up to actually keeping WED alive between WEDs.

Frankly, although I appreciate every effort by regional and national entities well-placed to take the WED message beyond the day every year, I’m not always that impressed annually.

One ought not to fall into the trap of measuring progress only according to one’s yardstick, which can sometimes be knowingly above average and/or beyond achievability in these times, most times for reasons beyond Humankind’s control.

I usually trace the emergence of a broader level of attention paid to The Environment here to the broad national coalition of pro-Environmental persons of national stature that opposed the purchase of the Jalousie Plantation in Soufriere by a company owned by a person associated with the family of the Shah of Iran, who’d just been overthrown in the 1979 Revolution.

The company also planned to construct an aerial tramway from the top of one of the two Pitons to the other, over Jalousie.

The advocacy and action of the Saint Lucia Environmental and Developmental Action Committee (SLEDAC) led to the first acknowledged national debate on ‘Protecting the Environment Without Stifling Development’.

SLEDAC included the likes of Sir Derek Walcott, Llewellyn Xavier, Dunstan St Omer, Fr Patrick Anthony, Dr Kenny Anthony, Dr Len Ishmael, Gabriel ‘Coco’ Charles, Mary Francis (and many others) – among them the Crème de la Crème of Saint Lucian Culture, Arts and Letters.

Walcott actually penned a special poem about the planned aerial tramway being a violation of ‘Helen’s Breasts’; and it was from the issues raised and awareness spread during that struggle in the early 1980s that many Saint Lucians started paying more attention to related issues.

Thenceforth. public interest gradually widened into other areas that gave better light to earlier efforts to Save The Forests and Rescue the endangered ‘Lucian Parrot’ and Whiptail Lizard, to fight Chemical Pollution of Agriculture through Bananas, to Save Our Rivers, to Protect Natural Plants and Animals and Indigenous and Endangered Species — and to learn from the lessons of yore like the 1938 Ravine Poisson (landslide) disaster and the environmental (beach erosion) after-effects of the construction of the Pigeon Island Causeway in the 1970s.

The battle to have The Pitons Area recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site led to a major achievement, whether or not Saint Lucia has done all we can or should to preserve that worthy global designation.

There is indeed a greater level of national appreciation in 2019 for the environment than back in 1980 or 1990, but there’s also a resulting greater need for organizations and individuals involved in related matters to probably try to ensure that on WED every year, there’s at least one national activity that will leave a nationwide imprint in the year thereafter.

It will only need for stakeholders to meet every year to decide on one or two projects that are national in scope and implementation and will take the Environmental Message to everyone, everywhere, on the same day.

Throughout every year, entities – including hotels and other private sector holdings – engage in sound pro-environmental practices and exercises that contribute to spreading the word through actual measures, whether planting trees or saving turtles.

But, for example, to what extent have Saint Lucians been sufficiently informed of the pros and cons of the Sargasso Seaweed invasion that has so changed coastal life here, not only for fisher-folk but also for countless families?

There’s good business to be made from and with the stinking seaweed, but how helpful or harmful is it to Humans and the Environment and what’s being done to inform the people it most affects of what it actually means to them and how to cope and live with it?

This year’s WED theme is ‘Air Pollution’ — and that’s not just for yesterday, but a theme that should guide actions until WED 2020.

So, how will The Next Year — between WEDs — be observed, as of tomorrow?

I look at the Air Pollution problems choking Beijing, New Delhi and a growing number of capitals worldwide and often ask myself:  How much are we making use of our still-much-better tropical fresh air?

I also ask today: Will Government lead the way against Air Pollution by carrying out, between now and WED 2020, a pollution census of all buildings housing government offices across the island (whether government-owned or rented) and then take the immediate follow-up steps to address outstanding air circulation issues found, such as faulty ventilation and/or refrigeration units and mold infestation?

Or: How about a census to determine the level of freshness of Saint Lucia’s air and a cost-benefit analysis of the amount of money spent annually on air conditioning, vis-à-vis remodeling homes, offices and buildings, to facilitate normal circulation of fresh air?

Or: A census to determine the link between air pollution levels in concentrated urban areas and the number of vehicles on our streets, the results to help determine national vehicle importation policy in ways that will help reduce one of our major sources of open air pollution?

Every year, I watch environmentally-conscious Saint Lucians looking to preserve their health by dressing-down to get up-and-running every morning along sidewalks of the island’s busiest highways, to exercise their legs and lungs along routes routinely contaminated by vehicle gas and diesel exhausts — and I wonder whether they think we are already in Electric-vehicle Laa-Laa Land…

I also often ask whether we’ve not got to a stage where we are now treating WED and environmental issues more as modern social fads, rather than matters actually connected to how long the earth – and us humans on it — can last.

I ended-up yesterday spending more time following on TV the 75th Anniversary of June 5, 1944: that day when Allied Forces launched the biggest joint naval expedition in Europe against Nazi Germany, among the epic battles marking the beginning of the end of World War II.

My father, Charles V.E. Bousquet, had fought World War II as a seaman in the Royal Merchant Navy on the so-called ‘cable ships’ that fearlessly rode the waves of the day’s high seas, every day laying underwater cables ahead of the wireless era, to facilitate quicker communications between lands and people, at the eternal risk of being bombed by Nazi submarine or aircraft.

Call me ‘Tet WED’ if you want, but for most of yesterday morning – Wednesday, WED 2019 — I acclimatized to that other environment instead.

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