There are more than seven billion people living on planet Earth. Our planet is at a critical juncture. As the global population increases so too are the environmental challenges associated with so many people living in a finite area. Each year the world pauses on April 22 to commemorate Earth Day. The global theme for Earth Day 2014 is “Green Cities”. With more than half of the world’s population living in cities, it is becoming more and more challenging to refer to our cities as ‘green’. Our cities are increasingly becoming large areas of concrete as governments struggle to provide affordable housing for their citizens. The denigration of the environment is a direct result of urbanization and population increase. This is having a negative effect on all of us, rich and poor, Christians and atheists, black and white. This negative impact is highlighted in Jamaica especially in the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew where there are hardly any green space available where our children, as well as adults alike to enjoy themselves whether for play or just to admire the beauty of nature. On the contrary, we have a solid waste disposal facility in the middle of the city which is rather senseless and environmentally suicidal.
Interestingly, a section of Vision 2030, Jamaica’s long term development plan, clearly speaks about protecting the environment. National Development Goal number 4 pursues Jamaica has a Healthy National Environment. However, the Jamaican government’s agreement to the Chinese proposal to build a coal-fired plant at Goat Islands seem to run contrary to moving towards a healthy environment and green economy status. According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) a green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In the past, our economic model was more concerned about improving the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, since the global recession a few years ago, many governments have wisely revisited their economic model and have done so ensuring that their environment is not wasted in the process of development and economic gains. Instead, economic growth and development should be based on social inclusiveness and a respect for Mother Nature.
Each one of us can make a difference in protecting our environment for Earth Day 2014 and beyond. We do not need a degree in environmental sciences in order to become wardens of the environment. What we need is a renewed focus to begin looking at the environment as being ours instead of seeing the environment in the abstract. We need to foster a culture of environmental awareness and consciousness among the population. The destruction of the environment continues to have a gendered approach. Most of the policies, programmes and plans associated with the annihilation of planet Earth are crafted in the minds of men. Even when females are at the helm of government they must operate in a patriarchal space in order to push forward any agenda.
The time to mobilize ourselves is now. We must lobby our government to invest in clean renewable energy and to overhaul our outdated building codes. We must begin to plant more tress and desist from cutting down our trees. We need to initiate environment clubs in all our schools. We need to teach environmental education in our schools in order to stir the consciousness of the next generation of Jamaicans. We need to do more recycling of our waste especially plastic. We must pay more attention to our watershed areas. The reality of climate change is being felt and now is the time to act.
In as much as the government has a major role to play in protecting the environment, we too as citizens have a role to play in safeguarding the environment, especially in light of the water problems Jamaica is currently experiencing where scores of people have no water in their pipes. Our citizens must become more vigilant in matters concerning the environment. The dormant collective spirit of our people must be rekindled and awaken with a fervent sense of urgency and cogency in light of the many environmental challenges we face as a society.
In order to “green” our cities we need a paradigm shift in terms of how our cities, communities and government operate. We need to build the green economy and provide green jobs. We need to hold our government more accountable and move towards a carbon-neutral economy. We must each ask ourselves what can I do to make a difference in my community this Earth Day. We must invest protect our environment for future generations. Once you go “green” you never go back. There can be no sustainable development without a clean and healthy environment.