“Environmental bona fides and development aspirations” (Editorial, Stabroek) News issue of Tuesday February 11, 2020) captured two key elements of the environmental challenge we face as a country: lack of “… culture of respect for and serious adherence to environmental laws…”.
The article, as a whole, gives a favourable impression of the candour of its author. Needless to say, our society can certainly do with many more editorials, and media reports on the natural ecology and the environment. This would assist us, as a nation, to find greater moral environmental clarity.
Considering the editorial more specifically, I would note that it is timely and relevant, particularly in circumstances where we continue to discover an abundance of oil and gas bestowed on this nation by nature itself. It is also important in the context of good environmental stewardship and His Excellency, President David Granger’s Green Economy Vision, which I boldly embraced and shared during my tenure as Town Clerk of the Georgetown Municipality, and which I will continue to do going forward in other areas of public service to my beloved country. The benefits of the President’s vision of a ‘green’ economy (which includes a ‘Modern Green Capital City’) needs no recitation. However, it is important to remind citizens of this alternative path outlined by His Excellency, to good environmental governance and stewardship as against the unsustainable one that continues to increase global temperatures and attendant consequences at an alarming rate.
Nevertheless, the editorial underlines the need to put in place approaches, systems and facilities to initiate respect for and compliance with environmental laws. I would say that, in order to reverse this situation and to promote behavioral change towards the natural environment, there are three fundamental things which we must do as a nation: educate, empower, enforce.
First, there is urgent need for an aggressive environmental and awareness programme at the primary level, and in our local communities.
At the primary level because it is at this entry point of our education system that we need to begin to mould the minds of the nation’s children. For as much as they are taught the basic concepts in mathematics, language and art, so too must they be taught the importance of the natural environment. Not in a casual way; it should be officially part of the curriculum at that level. This is an important point because unless we did that, then the negative environmental situation would persist because today’s children are tomorrow’s men and women. If we fail to influence their view and perception of the environment in a positive way, then degradation of our environment will continue.
Also, the relevant authorities should take environmental education to all communities. Local communities are social units situated in geographic or virtual spaces. These places allow cultural expressions and practices, which impact on the health and wellbeing of the environment. Therefore, local communities could be used as platforms for environmental behavioral change and this change can be facilitated by an environmental education programme thoughtfully tailored to meet the needs of different communities. The cultural values of each community would impact at different levels on the integrity of the environment. Again, this could be done through partnerships with community and cultural institutions, organisations and groups. An environmental education and awareness programme would provide information, knowledge and contribute to empowering residents to consider the impact of their actions on the environment. In this way, enforcement of compliance with environmental laws would become less of a challenge to the authorities.
That, notwithstanding, enforcement remains a fundamental aspect of good environmental stewardship. I hold the view that one of the ways we can enhance enforcement of environmental laws is by legislating specific annual environmental audits of corporations, particularly, those operating in the extractive, and manufacturing industries, [oil and gas, mining, logging; foods, beverages, furniture and fixtures, pharmaceuticals] and governmental and other agencies. This is vital because the extractive and manufacturing industries have huge capacity to drive economic growth and reduce poverty. But if they are not compliant with environmental laws then, in the long term, they could have the inverse effect (unsustainable economic growth and heavy increase in real poverty, particularly in poor and vulnerable communities). Basically, an environmental audit is a management tool used to carry out measurements of impacts of certain activities on the natural environment against specific standards and protocols. If this is considered by the authorities, then it would allow for more transparency and accountability in those industries. In fact, with such audits, the environmental performance of public and private corporations could then be properly scrutinised by shareholders and stakeholders. Naturally, environmental audits require a corps of environmental auditors who possess the relevant competencies and appropriate technologies to do the work. Also, this should be supported by the establishment of an environmental court or a court appointed to deal with environmental matters with dispatch.
LINK ORIGINAL: Guyana Chronicle