•Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at [email protected]
During the recent budget presentation Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham indicated that he would create an environmental ministry as of July 1. Former prime minister Perry Christie had created a Ministry of Energy and the Environment during his term in office.
Both leaders recognize the need for a designated cabinet post that would coordinate both the nation’s response to environmental challenges and our participation in a greening revolution that will transform individual behaviour and social practices.
While the accordion-like range of issues flow from a common theme, they cover a diversity of challenges from sustainable tourism to replenishment of fish stocks to coastal zone management to dump fires to the ways our individual actions help or hurt the environment.
The new minister will take office amidst a number of interconnected crises at home and abroad. Because of the nature of these challenges, he or she will have to think and act locally and globally.
Globally, we are confronted by climate change, soaring energy and food prices, loss of biological diversity and an expanding list of other concerns. At home, our model of economic development and consumption habits headline another list of green issues.
Though many disagree with the extremist Chicken Littles, who are convinced that the sky has already fallen, there is consensus that sea levels are rising, ground waters are increasingly contaminated and the oceans and skies have become like septic tanks for our waste.
A dual task then, for the new environment minister, is to sound the alarm on the perils we face, while fashioning imaginative, hope-filled and decisive responses to these threats.
Just as the minister will find extraordinary examples of imagination and hope throughout the archipelago, he or she will have to be decisive in adopting the best practices and insights of these environmental pioneers.
The minister will find in The Bahamas National Trust a cutting-edge model on how public-private partnerships can be utilized to protect our shared natural heritage.
This model, created by an Act of Parliament in 1959, was the first – and remains the only – national parks system in the world to be managed and developed by a non-governmental non-profit organization with various statutory powers.
Such a revolutionary approach, well ahead of its time, suggests that the Bahamas can serve as a model for innovation in environmental protection.
With this in mind, the minister must cultivate dynamic partnerships between government, business and civil society, which promote sustainable development.
The appointee will also have to help foster a culture of innovation regarding urgent environmental challenges, which cannot be left to the mercy of bureaucratic inertia or business as usual.
As the BNT approaches its Diamond Jubilee next year, the country is justifiably proud of the Trust’s stellar legacy of education, preservation and advocacy. Because of their work, we have in many areas an impressive environmental record.
Over the decades we brought the West Indian flamingo back from the edge of extinction, placed under a million acres into protected areas, and launched a still evolving National Creeks and Wetlands Restoration Programme.
We developed the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park into one of the first marine fisheries replenishment sites in the wider Caribbean and made our white-crowned pigeon population by far the most viable in the Caribbean.
The environmental czar can lead us into a greener future by first reminding us of these accomplishments and other models from which we can draw inspiration.
One of these, which our green chief should visit, is the Island School/Cape Eleuthera Institute in Deep Creek, Eleuthera.
The institute and companion school have produced novel demonstration projects in biofuels, food production, eco-education, waste treatment and a range of other environmental possibilities The Bahamas will need to embrace for a more sustainable future.
Another model is the Tiamo Resort in South Andros which is completely powered by solar energy. The resort has much to teach us about sustainable tourism and renewable energy.
We will need to draw on all of these lessons to meet significant challenges such as land preservation, preserving threatened wetlands and coral reefs, and replenishing declining fish stocks.
The legislative and regulatory framework guiding much of our economic development, particularly in tourism, needs to be strengthened. As importantly, the environment ministry must have enforcement powers, the lack of which will make any such ministry a paper tiger.
The new minister can lead the environment charge by making government as eco-friendly as possible. This may include instituting green guidelines in areas as diverse as how its vehicle fleet is powered and the conversion to solar and alternative energy sources for public buildings.
As the largest employer in the country and with significant purchasing power, a greener government will have a dramatic impact on reducing both our fuel import bill and carbon emissions.
Further, the new minister will have to provide the leadership needed to bring stakeholders together to help create not just a model for sustainable development, but also sustainable communities.
To wit, I have one additional suggestion for the minister. He or she may want to convene a historic summit, to craft a direction for an environmental future that will build on our successes while confronting urgent challenges.