Jamaica Blog Day: Environment or Development?

The 2014 Jamaica Blog Action Day logo; image courtesy the event.

The 2014 Jamaica Blog Action Day logo, image courtesy the event.

The second annual Jamaica Blog Day took place on May 23, symbolic because the date commemorates a pivotal moment in Jamaican history: four years ago, then-Prime Minister Bruce Golding declared a state of emergency in the island nation. The inaugural Blog Action Day focused on police and state security abuses out of respect for those that were killed during that difficult time – and the tradition of speaking out about important issues has endured from that first online bloggers’ forum. This year's theme was “Environment vs. Development”. According to the event's organisers:

The issue of our environment and development is a live one: from the near yearlong vigorous debate about the use of Goat Islands and the Portland Bight Protected Area for a Logistics Hub, to residents in Falmouth speaking up, again, about the damage a heralded pier has done to their communities, to drought that yet again grips the island and many Jamaicans choking on toxic smoke from the Riverton City Dump. Economists, politicians, environmentalists, businesspeople, the media, and ‘ordinary’ Jamaicans on The Rock or in the Diaspora are all debating how Jamaica…should manage the environment in the quest for development.

As usual, bloggers were not given any directives on how they should address the topic. The organisers’ statement continued:

As Jamaica faces a number of tough major decisions on coal fired plants, a new dam in the Bog Walk Gorge, mining for so-called rare earth elements, and – still – whether we should allow the Chinese government to lead the development of the Logistics Hub in a Protected Area, it is fitting that Jamaican bloggers will take an active role in helping to inform this debate.

The posts on Ja Blog Day are intended to be a campaign for raising awareness and more thoughtful action about Jamaica’s environment.

Cucumber Juice, one of the blogs closely associated with the event, took the lead in discussing the issue. She couldn't get the concept of dignity out of her head:

I recall images I have seen of folks like them. Their livelihoods seem so carelessly considered. But, worse, their dignity is decidedly and perhaps deliberately ignored. They are the fisherfolk who are told, though not directly or with any real assurance, that once the Hub is built, there will be low-skilled jobs available for them.

Some fisherfolk may indeed choose to take these jobs, considering the choice a step ‘up’ and ‘progress'…but I expect that many may pause and wonder how it is that their workplace is being commandeered, and that many will mourn the loss of its beauty and the opportunities it provided or them. So, I am bothered: what of their dignity and of the dignity of their work? What of their sense of self and self-worth possibly derived from at working for themselves? We parrot and pontificate about entrepreneurship but, it seems, only one kind of entrepreneurship will do.

The blogger, Alice Clare, went on:

I do not romanticize fishing work – nor do I romanticize poverty – it is an unnatural state for any human to live in, and too many Jamaicans live in it. So it is not sentimentally that drives my discomfort. Instead, it is a profound weighty feeling that we are losing something more than a Protected Area and more than access to and control over our blessed natural beauty. The weighty feeling is one of dread as we discard our dignity. The loss of dignity seems a first and dangerous step.

The fisherfolk being told, quite condescendingly, that their livelihoods must be abandoned to be replaced by an ill-defined development seems to me to also communicate the pernicious message that they are worth nothing more than the labour that they can provide.

There is plenty of time – relatively speaking – to go over the tug of war between environment and development. But, this? This idea of dignity – our dignity – is fundamental.

Her thoughts were echoed by other JA Blog Day participants. On Twitter, @techno shared his view:

Constructed Thoughts countered that the issue was not black and white:

This year we are called upon to examine the debate between environmental preservation and development. This theme is particularly relevant in light of the government’s stated intention to develop a port and logistics hub in the Portland Bight Protected Area. Predictably, an overwhelming amount of Jamaicans are suddenly environmentalists, decrying the government as greedy, short sighted and any other emotionally charged description that will grab a headline. I’m particularly concerned that most, if not all, the arguments coming from our recently converted environmentalists are emotionally charged. There is a kind of reckless refusal to accept that the extraordinary economic challenges we face as a country necessitates an extraordinary response.

When we advocate for saving the environment, who are we saving it for? And if your cheeky answer goes something like ‘future generations’, I want to know what happens to the present generation. What happens to the need for investment, job creation, and poverty alleviation? Isn’t it true that in furtherance of our own survival we must exploit the natural resources available to us? Do we forego the estimated US$1.5 billion investment to save frogs, birds and fish? What of the expected three thousand jobs expected duration the construction phase and the 15,000 permanent well-paying jobs that will be created? Is it reasonable to ask the government to choose to protect flora and fauna at the expense of people’s economic lives?

Many environmentalists have argued that sustainable development demands that we protect the environment, while seeking out alternative strategies for economic development. Those who subscribe to the vague and imprecise concept of ‘sustainable development’, must explain how it addresses the 12% unemployment rate plaguing the country, they have a responsibility to explain how ‘environmentally friendly’ activities, and I’m assuming we are thinking of careers in fishing or some kind of craftsmanship, will move our country from a struggling third world economy to one which can adequately meet the needs of a modern population.

Cucumber Juice tackled the stance of the current government when it comes to development:

Prime Minister Simpson-Miller has essentially said that she’s interested in ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ and she’s ‘working, working, working’ to bring them to Jamaica for Jamaicans, and so unless you have some money to facilitate that goal, don’t talk to her. This is what I hear: we have sold ourselves…

It is not that I mean we should never court investment or never transform our country’s landscape or that our natural environment should never be touched or transformed in certain ways; that is Utopian and impractical. But I am very concerned about the mindless soulless pursuit of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ that frames our decisions. These are not just difficult decisions, they are ones that will truly shape our destiny as a country, and, more importantly, as a nation; the decisions define who we are as a people.

The apparent loss of our dignity, given willingly to the highest bidder, is even more striking and troubling to me because time and time and time again I sense that too many Jamaicans do not believe that they deserve better. I think that, at least, we can demand that our fellow citizens are treated humanely and not as mere collateral damage.

Other bloggers also longed for a win/win situation. @Kellykathrin submitted a post that suggested:

In my mind both [environment and development] must be protected and fostered if we are truly going to be able to live in a country that lives up to its promise and stewards its gifts effectively.

Another participant examined the definition of “development” and how discussion about it on a national level is handled:

Development may change its definition depending on who you ask. The urban planner, the housing contractor, the government official- might have overlapping views…but where visions don’t overlap— and there are many such spaces—is a chasm of wills nowhere greater evidenced than in the battle between the economy and the environment.

We falsely perceive an angry environmental lobby that is anti-development, anti-jobs and therefore anti-growth on the one hand. While on the other we discern a molasses-paced government fraught with the challenge of moving a national economy towards measurable growth that has tangible impact in people’s lives. We project a rubric that says ‘Environment OR Development’. But the gloves-are-off combative approach to the national conversation on how to reconcile environmental and economic goals is a dangerous one that does not engage the plethora of ways that an environmental agenda is essential to the economic agenda and vice versa.

You can read all the posts for the 2014 Jamaica Blog Day here, and check out the event's Twitter feed, here.

The image used in this post is courtesy Jamaica Blog Action Day.

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