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PM, be an ambassador for the environment

Monday, September 7, 2015

To the Prime Minister we vote for today: you are our Prime Environmentalist. The environment is the one thing that binds us all. It is everywhere around us. It is the air you breathe, the ground you walk on, the house you eat and sleep in, the ocean you swim in, the water that you drink. It is the cycle of life that you depend on and that depends on you. 

During the next five years, do not think of yourself as separate from “the environmentalists.” Instead say to yourself: “I am an ambassador for the environment.” Be cautious though, if you say the words, you can’t take them back. 

We want you to become our Papa Bois, the protector of the forests and the forest animals. You must be our Mama Glo, the healer of the rivers and river animals. In local folklore these figures can be a bit scary, but in fact they are benign creatures that only lash out at those who mean harm. 

The root cause of nearly every environmental problem is governance. And the solution for each problem is governance too. Governance determines how the public is educated and how polluters are regulated. Governance dictates how we deal with our waste, with climate change, deforestation and how we make use of our land space. You are the chief governor. 

You must promise to find a solution for our waste problem. As you know, the report commissioned by the Government of T&T found that we can recycle 80 per cent of our waste. 

This is the solution to all the trash that litters our roadways, drains, rivers and beaches. Recycling will also make a big dent in saving lives. The air and water pollution that emanates from our garbage dumps are slow killers of our people. The report found that if we recycle we can close four out of five garbage dumps. Never again will Port-of-Spain have to close schools, businesses and even embassies because of toxic smoke from burning garbage. 

As Prime Environmentalist you can make this happen! T&T is the second highest emitter of CO2 per capita in the world. T&T is also a country that has one of the highest fuel and energy subsidies in the world. The subsidy is so great that for years it was the single largest government expenditure. In 2014 T&T spent more on cheap fuel than it did on health, education, national security or transport.

The fuel subsidy is literally burning money. The World Bank has condemned fuel subsidies as being ineffective and counter productive. They do not benefit the poor and distort a countries’ competitiveness. As Prime Environmentalist you have the opportunity to do away with the fuel subsidy right now. Doing so at this moment, with low oil prices, will decrease the price of fuel at the pump. 

There is no electoral backlash. In the medium term, when oil prices rise again, this will free up cash that can be invested in mass transportation and measures to reduce T&T’s CO2 emissions. A worthy symbolic gesture, something that you can do tomorrow, is make the Prime Minister’s residence totally solar powered. 

Solar panels on the roof will show that you care about climate change. At first it will just be a symbol, but symbols are important because they represent how we think, or the ideals about how we should think. Symbols shape us. 

On October 1, hunting season will resume. The forest animals had a bit of peace during the last two years. They are thankful for that. However they will face another hunting season that is near unregulated. This means that all good intentions aside, the situation in the forest will be the same as before the hunting moratorium when animals were overhunted.

We need you to complete the wildlife survey and implement a scientifically managed hunt. Good intentions are not enough, unless it is to pave a road to failure. 

Just last week our Caribbean neighbours Saba and Bonaire declared shark sanctuaries in their waters. In the Caribbean they join the British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Honduras and Cayman Islands in protecting these apex predators that keep our oceans healthy.

Did you know that we import shark from as far afield as Fiji, Guyana and South Africa so we can eat them in T&T? We are also a major transshipment hub for shark fin to Asian markets. Some shark species are down by more than 90 per cent. We are on the wrong side of history on this one. Protect our apex predators. 

Chaguaramas is dear to us. It is our urban park where we can walk the dog, do sports, show our children Red Howler monkeys at play. Where else in the world can the average Joe experience such natural beauty so near to a city? The present CDA master plan includes development of villas, apartments hotels and hotels in what is essentially Trinidad’s largest park. 

Housing in Tucker Valley and Pointe Gourde and the long-term plans to build resorts in Scotland Bay and Teteron will change Chaguaramas beyond recognition. Before taking away Chaguaramas from us and giving it to the developers, will you consider an alternative, eco-friendly development plan along the lines of a national park?


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