World Environment Day 2020 arrives with the news that notwithstanding the dramatic Covid-19-induced reduction in carbon emissions, the level of carbon dioxide in the air is at its highest in recorded history.
The point to recognise is that it is going to take a lot more than a couple of months of decreased industrial activity to alter the ominous trajectory of climate change and everything that comes with it.
On Monday the 2020 hurricane season officially arrived with impacts yet to be unfolded. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, a hurricane disaster is a real threat for undoing what has already been achieved. Given Trinidad and Tobago’s location in the shadow of the South American continent at the southern end of the Caribbean, we are usually sheltered from the worst the season can bring. However, our experience of storms and devastating flooding should be enough to make us prioritise preparation at the institutional and individual levels.
One worrying development linked to Covid-19 anxiety has been an apparent increase in slash-and-burn farming as more and more people move to secure their food supply and earn income. This problem is particularly acute in the Northern Range which is also under pressure of illegal quarrying which the regulatory authorities have failed to halt. Repeatedly, it is left to communities to confront illegal and sometimes dangerous law-breakers. It is a shame that the entire chain of government, including the Minister of Energy and the Director of Mines, allows the free-for-all in the quarrying sector. For this and more the Environmental Management Authority must take responsibility. While there are many good professionals at the EMA, the authority’s general policy direction belies a willingness to genuflect to the State at the expense of effective environmental management.
Perhaps it is too much to expect the EMA to stand up to governments willing to overlook the environmental impact of certain foreign investment and vanity projects. Certainly, the political nature of some of the key appointments at the EMA militates against such independence.
Today’s World Environment Day is an opportunity for the Prime Minister and his Road to Recovery team to review their plans and proposals from the perspective of the environment. Every initiative should be put to the test on a scale that weighs the pros and cons in terms of the impact on the environment and the future well-being of T&T.
For the rest of us, today is also an opportunity to rebalance our lives and bring it more in harmony with the needs of nature. The youth who are witnessing the devastation of their natural inheritance are already leading the way on the environment. The older generation whose lifestyles and values have created much of the mess must join them and accept their lead.
This year’s World Environment Day theme of “Time For Nature” calls our attention to the urgency of this moment. T&T’s environmental problems are a symptom of a deep-rooted culture of neglect, disrespect, and ignorance about the value of the natural environmental.
Continuing to refuse to change our collision course with Nature is to accept that our fate is sealed.