THE MOORE THINGS CHANGE: Do Barbadians really love Barbados?
The late American historian George Kennan, upon receiving the Pacem In Terris Award 20 years ago, made this telling point: “This habitat, the natural world around us, was not given to us to destroy or exploit for our pleasure, or in a mad effort to assure the safety of our own generation. It is something placed at our disposal for us to cherish and to pass on with all its beauty and fertility and marvellousness to our children and to future generations – to those generations yet unborn who have just as much right as we have to the privilege and the enjoyment of this habitat God gave us all to live in.”
I reflected on Mr Kennan’s observation last month as we went through the annual and vital renewal of what Independence means to Barbados.
So we took our annual bath in the illusion that we are the greatest; that we’re still “punching above our weight” – to join in Kofi Annan’s clichéd hyperbole.
At the same time we continued polluting the 166-square-mile plot we occupy – a tiny piece of land 11 times smaller than Trinidad, 25 times smaller than Jamaica and 457 times smaller than Guyana. You can fit Barbados into Brazil 19 666 times.
Please don’t misunderstand: people need affirmation and hope to keep their spirits up lest they sink into self-pity and depression.
Government is currently preparing two more places for reflection and relaxation: one at Church Village – why we need another recreational space just yards away from underused Queen’s Park is beyond my imagination – and the other, along the Constitution River, from Queen’s Park to the Careenage. Sadly, before these sites are finished, dirty Barbadians are already littering and vandalizing them, and even stealing building equipment from the project on the banks of the river.
How can a people qualify as intelligent when they consistently destroy the very place that sustains them? We litter and dump garbage all around; and we seem unable to make the obvious connection that we court disease by increasing the rat and mosquito populations. We’ve adjusted comfortably to living with litter.
Kurt Vonnegut, in A Man Without A Country, wrote: “Human beings have trashed the joint. I don’t think people give a damn whether the planet goes on or not. Everyone is living as members of Alcoholics Anonymous do: day by day. I know of very few people who are dreaming of a world for their grandchildren.”
We willingly inhale acrid black smoke all day long, as if it were oxygen, the result of sub-standard petrol spewed from the badly-tuned engines of most mini-buses, ZR vans, pick-up trucks and other large vehicles; and we seem unable to make the obvious connection that the spiralling cases of asthma and other respiratory ailments are the consequences.
It was welcome news last week to read a whole-page advertisement from the Barbados National Oil Company proudly claiming that this month Barbados will be first in the Caribbean to introduce ultra low sulphur diesel.
The company said it was one of Government’s planks in the mission to achieve clean air quality. It’s about time.
Early last year the Prime Minister instructed the BNOCL to examine the feasibility of importing the low sulphur product. The company began to look into the matter, but found “several challenges” to be addressed to effect the change.
I’m glad to hear that those several challenges have finally been overcome.
Noise pollution is another perennial problem. Those who don’t love it grin and hear it. Like litter and garbage, we’ve come to accept noise as part of our daily existence; we see it as merely a transient humbug: the marauding terrorist on a motorcycle will quickly traverse my district and roar through yours.
Last week we learned of “the advent” of the Environmental Management Act. It’s been up in the clouds for years. The headlines proclaimed, for the umpteenth time: Stiffer Penalties Soon For Littering and You Dump, You Pay, but I’ve heard that song many times before.
If there is going to be any goodwill and stability left in this country, the citizens will have to think through our challenges and find sensible and creative ways to deal with them.
We must work hard to eliminate low productivity, a poor work ethic, sloppy service, unpunctuality, abuse of the environment, and the steady erosion of a once respected value system.
Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s regularly warn us about the economic slippage and our falling credit rating, but there is perhaps an even more perilous slippage taking place on the social plane. Long after we’ve fixed the economic problems, galloping social decay will be our bigger challenge.
Clumsily caricaturing the analysis of such international agencies’ insults the intelligence of Barbadians. Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s reports are not strictures directed at me. They point to the incompetence of the people I elected to manage my affairs.
I’m yet to meet the Barbadian who thinks of himself or herself as junk.
For much of this past year we have been casting about for answers to the pervasive violence that surrounds us. I’m afraid we will have to dig into the marrow of our culture to find the real answers.
Until we are ready to investigate how we raise our offspring and eliminate some of the defects – corporal punishment is one, how we treat one another, and a host of other unsavoury practices – the violence will continue. There is so much pain and anger in so many Barbadian homes this Christmas.
Barbados has now come to a crossroads at which we will have to invest much time thinking through our problems.
It’s going to take more than the occasional prayer fest in Heroes’ Square and an all-day talk shop at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre with a gaggle of bishops, apostles and elders noisily shouting at God to save Barbados.
• Carl Moore was the first Editor of THE NATION and is a social commentator.