Environmental Damage Is Not The Sole Responsibility Of The Poor

 Unconsciously, most of us associate environmental destruction as being the responsibility of the poor. Big statement. But it's true. When we think of ways to cut back on the ways we (West Indians) damage our environment, our focus is nearly always on "education". Poverty and a lack of education are commonly linked in our collective consciousness. Therefore, when we link "education" as a solution to a problem, we are inadvertently linking that problem to poverty. While this might be helpful for STI reduction or something of that nature, in the case of climate change, it allows our people and our government to turn a blind eye to other problems that have an environmental impact yet fly under the radar.

While littering and polluting beaches is a serious issue worthy of educating the public on, our primary focus when addressing ecological destruction in the Caribbean should be examining the hotel industry. While the hotel industry is lauded for "fixing" our still-broken economy and providing slave wage jobs to our locals, unchecked ecological destruction often occurs on lands and waters that should be protected. They fling us their scraps and we cheer them on. While we cheer for this subtle re-introductory of forced labor, foreign capitalists purchase the most desirable land and destroy it.Bird sanctuaries are destroyed for hotels that go bankrupt before they open. Foreign capitalists rub their hands together with glee as they look upon our coral reefs and mangroves, more sites they hope to destroy for business projects with a high chance of going bankrupt before they get started. And we cheer them on. We celebrate their minimal (and often short-term) positive impact on our country while allowing our nation to be destroyed.

Once hotels are built and entire ecosystems are destroyed, we do very little to mitigate the pollution they produce. Our country also do nothing to mitigate the pollution caused by cruise ships that sail into our harbor. The message is clear: ecological destruction is alright once the people doing it are wealthy.When we move to "educate" people about environmentalism, will we be heading to foreign boardrooms to educate the greedy on the value of land? Or will we be telling impoverished people in Castries not to throw a single Icy bottle into the harbor?

When we discuss the ecological impact and environmental damage, we need to be conscious of the scale of environmental damage and focus our attentions there. Luckily, we have an organization that does this -- Saint Lucia's National Trust. However, the National Trust is just one entity and requires the support and participation of far more Saint Lucians for their actions to have an even greater impact. If you can't participate in direct action, visit the website and find ways to donate. Spread the word of valuable programs.

Saint Lucians have always been in a battle to keep our natural resources safe from the exploitation of foreigners. This struggle began with indigenous Kalinago peoples and continues today. Protection of our natural lands should always be of greater significance than profits. This is the conviction we need to carry with us into the future.

Socioeconomic Class And Climate Change

As sea levels continue to rise in the Caribbean, our region will require long-term planning (ha) and forethought about how certain areas are affected and what the government will do to mitigate these effects. In Saint Lucia, particularly vulnerable areas include fishing villages like Dennery and Anse La Raye. The "village center" of nearly every district, including the capital city, Castries sits right at sea level. This means in the future, these areas will be disproportionately affected by the rising sea levels.

Socioeconomic class is something we pretend is invisible or unimportant in our region, but as the effects of climate change grow more widespread, the disparities between socioeconomic classes will differ immensely. We will see further income inequality as well as physical damage to our landscape and natural resources as climate change continues to unfold.

How seriously our politicians take climate change speaks to how much they genuinely care about the most vulnerable populations that they serve. (Remember, the government serves the people of the country.) In recent times, the views of certain politicians have become quite clear. Instead of working towards the preservation of natural resources or long-term infrastructural planning, our government appears to be occupied with furthering the expansion of foreign capitalists exploitation of our local lands and natural resources.

Our population is sometimes chided for their docility. This is largely revisionist history intended to encourage us to remain docile. (Yes, we're all the victims of reverse psychology.) However, Saint Lucia has always had a strong culture of resistance to exploitation and we can see that resistance continued today via the recent open letter sent to the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia. This resistance is just one step towards environmental justice. Our local National Trust organization is another front of resistance against environmental exploitation that has effectively aided in preventing a number of destructive practices on Saint Lucian lands.

As citizens, we will need to strengthen our commitment to direct action in favor of our short and long-term goals as a population if we are to successfully resist not just this attempt at exploitation, but the ones that are sure to happen in the future. When the ocean's waters start creeping up the coast and destroying the homes of our nation's most vulnerable, will be equally ready to defend them? When what is being destroyed is something we deem unimportant, we need to be equally prepared to stand up for what is right.

The action against the proposed inhumane practices at Pigeon Island National Park provides encouragement for our population. We will need to solidify and expand this action sooner than we think as we start to experience the damaging effects of climate change on our coasts. Going forward, Saint Lucians (and West Indians in general) need to strengthen our commitment to equality. We should pursue justice for the poor with the same fervor we pursue justice for areas of our island that command international respect (like our Pitons or Pigeon Island National Park). We have a lot of difficult work ahead of us as a nation, but we're beginning to return to our roots -- those roots of resistance that have served us throughout our people's history. 

How Environmental Racism Applies To The Caribbean Region

Environmental racism refers to marginalized communities being disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards compared to communities that are not marginalized (Source: Wikipedia Search). First world countries subject the Caribbean region to environmental racism through environmental destruction and notably in St. Lucia via resort tourism and cruise ships. Foreign news sources confirm the environmental impact of cruise ships as being largely negative; the negative outweighs the benefit that cruise ships can bring to the economy. Despite the fact that resorts and cruise ships are known to cause unchecked environmental destruction (including the destruction of coral reefs) we find foreign investors and government officials all too willing to sell our land under the guise of "development".

But who does this development really benefit?The tourism industry and those who sit at the top -- hoteliers and government officials responsible for giving them permission to destroy our lands -- exploit the Caribbean region in a way few other regions of the world are exploited. The global south receives none of the alleged economic benefits of resorts. In Saint Lucia, hotels receive massive tax breaks and white-collar jobs are typically reserved for foreigners while blue collar jobs (and sometimes "unpaid internships" also known as slave labor) are reserved for our locals. We see no "benefits" but we pretend these small-time temporary positions will save our economy, all the while destroying the natural habitat we need to survive.

The Caribbean region -- being a series of islands -- is also disproportionately affected by global climate change. While we may not be viewing the full effects of climate change yet, climate experts have predicted an increase in hurricanes in our region throughout the next few years. Do many of you remember Hurricane Ivan and the impact in Grenada? What about the earthquake in Haiti? Our region's economy and population simply cannot sustain repeated destruction at the hands of natural disasters. The way we are disproportionately affected by climate change is hardly an accident. Regions heavily populated by people of non-white descent are the main victims of climate destruction due to climate change. But those who cause this large scale ecological destruction remain unscathed (for now) by the impact of their actions. They pollute the globe; we face the consequences.

As I've shown above, this happens on large scales and small. On the large scale, we have the shifting climate which will lead to more natural disasters ravaging our region. On a smaller scale, we have individual investors seeking to destroy coral reefs in exchange for large resorts that have high chances of going out of business and minuscule chances of overhauling our economies.

Discussing environmental racism can be depressing. But really, this just paints a further case for reparations from the nations that built themselves on the backs of our ancestors. We were enslaved (which was not just hard labor but also large scale social and sexual violence) and Europe became rich. When they were through with us, we were granted "independence" where we conveniently pledge allegiance to the Queen while receiving absolutely none of the benefits of citizenship to the U.K. They have a global playground while we struggle to receive adequate health care and education.

In the future, we need to truly become conscious of what it means to rely on "tourism" for our bread and butter when it's clear that it has very little positive impact for the majority of the population of our country. Being subjected to highly abusive conditions in temporary jobs is not going to save us. We need to start thinking about strategies that will and put an end to this exploitation of our soil.