Wednesday, November 29, 2006

From the Frying Pan into the Red Mud

by John Maxwell
Jamaica Observer
November 26, 2006

We are all Maroons now, whether we know it or not, wherever we are on the face of the Earth, whoever we are, black, white or in-between, male or female, human, as long as we are alive, animal or vegetable, on land or in the sea or the air, our very existence is under attack.
If we want to survive we have to take action. We need to resist the destruction of our own and our planet's integrity, resist degradation and deformity and protect ourselves from extinction.
We are under siege by a system gone mad, an economic system gone berserk, unaccountable to anyone and responsible to nothing because this system has no rules. It can do anything it wants to anyone, any living organism.
It is destroying oceans, mountains and entire ecosystems, and with giant dams, even slowing the revolution of the Earth. It destroys everything in its way, creatingdeserts out of fertile land, submerging low-lying lands, poisoning the air webreathe, altering weather systems in unpredictable ways and producing more destructive hurricanes and typhoons, even slowing down the mighty Gulf Stream itself, destroying the ice-cover at the North Pole, breaking up the ice continent of Antarctica into icebergs bigger than Jamaica and threatening life itself everywhere on Earth.
It is a system described by George Soros, one of the world's richest men, as "Gangster Capitalism".
On the world stage it calls itself 'globalisation'. On the local stage, everywhere, its adherents call it 'Development'.
In this system, everything and everyone is for sale. Human dignity itself becomes a marketable commodity, affordable to those with enough money to buy themselves a little time.
In Vietnam 40 years ago, the Americans thought they were buying time and safeguarding progress. The Domino Theory was ascendant, and South-East Asia was to be made safe for democracy.
This ideal led to the killing and maiming of hundreds of thousands of people, some American, some Vietnamese. Here is the story of three Americans:
The son speaks: "The areas around us were heavily defoliated, so defoliated that they looked like burned-out areas, many of them. You know, almost every day that you were in riverboat patrol, you were being subjected to the Agent Orange factor."
The father speaks: "It is the case that the particular area in Vietnam in which my son's boat operated a great deal of the time was an area that was sprayed up on my recommendation, and in that sense it's particularly ironic that in a sense, if the causal relationship can be established, I have become an instrument of my son's own tragedy."
The son is Elmo Zumwalt III, son of Elmo Zumwalt II, Admiral and Chief of Naval Operations of the USA. Elmo the younger died at 42, destroyed by cancers induced by Agent Orange. His father died 11 years later, aged 79.
While serving as Commander of US naval forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1970 the elder Zumwalt had ordered the spraying of the defoliant Agent Orange in the Mekong Delta, seeking to deny cover to snipers on the river banks.
The older Zumwalt killed his son. His son's genes, deformed by Agent Orange, severely damaged his grandson's nervous system resulting in serious learning disabilities. He is unable to speak for himself.
Hundreds of thousands of South-East Asians were also killed and maimed by Agent Orange and many of their children have been born and are now being born dead, disabled or hideously deformed.
Agent Orange is a mixture of two phenoxyl herbicides 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 2,4,5 trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4,5-T). These were developed for agro-industry factory farming to control broad-leaved weeds. In broad-leaved plants they induce rapid, uncontrolled growth, eventually killing them. There were used all over the world by the middle of the 1950s. At least one extension officer in Jamaica, my friend 'Buddha' Webster, was killed by exposure to this toxin.
It was later learned that a dioxin, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin (TCDD), is produced as a by-product of the manufacture of 2,4,5-T, and was thus present in any of the herbicides that used it. This chemical is among those now present in the waters of Kingston Harbour, and as I pointed out five years ago, redistributed in the dredging of the harbour.
TCDD is a carcinogen, frequently associated with soft-tissue sarcoma, Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). 2,4,5-T has since been banned for use in the US and many other countries. Its initial effects include liver damage, loss of energy and diminished sex drive.
During the 1970s, at the height of the destabilisation of the Manley government, I saw at Newport East, a big transformer built for JPS dropped onto the quayside, breaking open and spilling into the harbour gallons of dioxins, which remain there to this day.
Almost all the countries now described as 'developing' or 'underdeveloped' share one major characteristic: for hundreds of years their people, their lands, their resources have provided the raw materials for the development of the so-called 'developed world'.
As one American comic has said: "What is our oil doing underneath Iraq and Venezuela?"
Almost every war ever fought and most of today's wars and civil wars derive from the idea that the strong are entitled to the resources of the weak because the weak don't know how to use their resources appropriately. In this perspective, Jamaican farmland is not serving its proper purpose by producing food. Jamaican bauxite is necessary for 'progress' to make more planes, more frying pans, more garbage and to stiffen the GDP.
In Rio de Janeiro, 14 years ago, political leaders and bureaucrats from all over the world (including P J Patterson) met to agree on a new compact to define development or 'progress' if you will. They signed the Treaty of Rio, otherwise known as Agenda 21, and it committed the nations of the world to work together to assure the survival of the planet and all the living things which inhabit it by adopting and practising sustainable development.
The first paragraph of the preamble of the treaty is worth remembering: "Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being."
Environmentalists put it more crudely: We are living beyond our means, overdrawing our credit from the earth, destroying finite resources for greed.

The oil industry is only now waking up to the prospect that its behaviour may condemn all of us to a future of darkness, disease and destitution; only now beginning to recognise that there is an imminent threat of catastrophic changes because of global warming. Even Mr Bush (USA) and Mr Howard of Australia seem to be seeing the light. The Chinese seem to have some way to go before they emerge from their tunnel of development.
In the Rio statement on sustainable development, the world's leaders acknowledged "the integral and interdependent nature of the Earth, our home" and proclaimed as the first principle of development that: "Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature."
Progress is today defined by measuring how much of one's patrimony can be safely delivered into the hands of developers. We offer them incentives to come to despoil our patrimony, abuse and deform our social relations and generally disinherit us. In gracious exchange they will make billions of tax-free dollars and demonstrate how different they are to the rest of the miserable and oppressed of the earth. In return we can go live in the Bronx.
All over the world, indigenous populations are counselled to be investor friendly, to assist the despoliation of their holy mountains in Chile; the poisoning of their streams and the deforestation of their landscapes in New Guinea; the displacement, murder and rape of thousands to make way for oil pipelines in Burma (Myanmar). The progress-bringers are destroying the glaciers of Iceland, the Jarrah forests of Western Australia and the communal tranquility of the Cedros peninsula in Trinidad.

The 2005 Yale/Columbia Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) showed Trinidad and Tobago as having the worst percentage of negative land impacts of 146 countries, yet Trinidad's government is ignoring the protests of its people who don't want any more pollution and degradation of their small and beautiful island.

Public protests in Chile, Brazil and Vietnam have kept proposed aluminum smelters out of those countries. The Trinidadian citizens group Cedros Peninsula United say that when they managed to obtain a copy of Alcoa's (secret) environmental clearance, jointly signed by Alcoa and the government's energy corporation, they found it full of omissions, inaccuracies and outright false statements.
The Barrick Corporation of Canada, like Alcoa, a transnational despoiler of the environment, is proposing to mine 500 tonnes of gold from mountain peaks in Chile. The Barrick corporation intends (Listen to This!) to relocate three glaciers (rivers of ice) to get at the gold.
As you might imagine, the people of Chile are not accepting this proposed rape of their environment.
The proposed assault on the Cockpit Country is not simply an assault on the sensibilities of a few environmentalists. It is an affront to the whole of humanity. When the great devastation comes we won't be saved by bauxite or alumina, but by the species finding shelter in the land of 'Look Behind' and similar refuges around the world.
A hundred years ago Jules Verne described the Gulf Stream as "the sea's greatest river [and] we must pray that this steadiness continues because ...if its speed and direction were to change, the climates of Europe would undergo disturbances whose consequences are incalculable".
The sea's greatest river is slowing down, and the consequences have been calculated. A few weeks ago the British government published a report by Sir Nicholas Stern on the economic consequences of climate change. The report says the possibility of avoiding a global catastrophe is "already almost out of reach",
Stern says changes in weather patterns could drive down the output of the world's economies by up to £6 trillion a year by 2050, an amount equivalent to almost the entire output of the EU. This catastrophic prospect is the direct result of 'progress' as defined by people who have more money than conscience.
If the Gulf Stream slows to a stop or even if it simply continues to slow down, the effects on climate, farming and the populations of the world will be in one word, disaster.
Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Prize economist of 2001 and former chief economist of the World Bank says, "The Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change makes clear that the question is not whether we can afford to act, but whether we can afford not to act. [The report] provides a comprehensive agenda, one which is economically and politically feasible, behind which the entire world can unite in addressing this most important threat to our future well-being."
Neither Stern nor Stiglitz (nor Soros) is some wool-gathering tree-hugger. They are among the people recognised as the brightest in the world. I prefer to believe them rather than some public relations flack from any aluminium company or the Port Authority or any other agency of the Jamaican government.
The Spanish hotels on the North Coast are disasters in their own right and will soon become catastrophic losses because of sea level rise and hurricanes. And we will pay for that as we will pay for the 'Doomsday Highway' which is already obsolete.
As I pointed out in my column, People at Risk in February 2002, some of the geniuses of the Jamaican 'development' process tolerate no opposition to 'progress'. They will destroy our coral reefs and degrade the harbour to take bigger container ships - themselves extinct within 20 years. At that time I reported that the bottom of Kingston Harbour contained several extremely dangerous substances and warned that PAJ dredging would redistribute them unpredictably and in a manner which would almost certainly be hazardous to health, particularly to the people of Portmore.
I reported that among toxins present were: Arsenic, Cadmium, Dioxins (including derivatives of Agent Orange), Lead, Lindane, Hexachlorobenzene, Tetrachloroethylene and good, old Mad Hatter's Mercury.
"Progress' has brought civil war, genocide and HIV/AIDS to Africa. It has deformed our politics, driven away our best and brightest all in search of the Holy Grail of 'development',
We can eat Trelawny yam and gungo peas. We can't eat Red Mud, although we may have to drink it, if progress has its way with the 'Land of Look Behind'. Prosit!

Copyright©2006John Maxwell


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You paint a very clear picture of a situation gone out of control. We screwed it up big time, but I feel we can still pull it out. Not all progress is bad and the enlightened populace can move sustainable development forward. We just need to move the greedy out of the way. No small task, but it can and will be done.

11:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Each and Every word you used was so right...ON....HOW can this CORPoraTE World not see that the END of substance is DEATH ... check out the IRIN reports on AIDS...
No one can be so IGNORANT or the like to not see that we have to find a way to make this world and this earth work out together...I have more thoughts...but I am REACTING to the TRUTH of you is not a THEORY...
Only wish I could do MORE....

Marianne Z Masteller
po box 660
San Juan Bautista, CA 95045

11:15 AM  

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