Earth Day 2016
This year Earth Day finds Panama in a terrible drought, the worst on record and probably an example of things to come. Climate change is upon us and although it is important to do certain things to avoid making it worse, no country alone can change the overall course of events and even standing together the world will not turn things around in an instant. Adaptation has now come front and center on the nation’s and the world’s job list.
Panama has done well in certain areas and badly in others. There is less deforestation. There is less burning. But solid waste disposal is a total disaster and our fisheries are collapsing. We have no coherent carbon emissions policy, there isn’t much progress toward the promised clean water system that covers all of the nation’s households and some steps in the other direction have not changed the trend toward designing the capital and its environs for cars rather than people.
The economic life that the nation has been living is threatened on several fronts. We probably won’t be allowed to continue with a thriving “offshore asset protection” economy, we will probably fall well short of the shipping volume projections that were the premise for the canal expansion and the downturn in our import / export business promises to be prolonged due to a generalized regional economic stall. “Free trade,” blights, land speculation and the vagaries of markets have scaled back our most basic national security requirement, the ability to feed ourselves.
However, because all of these troubles will oblige us to rethink the economic model by which Panama works — or else we will be left standing amidst the rubble of the old model’s collapse without any alternative in mind — we will have the opportunity to deliberately move toward a more holistic way of life. It won’t be easy, but it won’t be as hard as it would be to try to continue doing what we have been doing. The essential things are that we need an economy in which we produce more of the things that we eat and use and develop new goods and services that the world will want and buy, and do these things without destroying our land and seas or adding to our carbon footprint. Socially and politically it can’t be done in any lasting way if it means selling the country to foreigners or adding to our own extreme domestic inequalities.
In the meantime, there are some common sense things to do, some of which are being done:
- Our energy policies need to first and foremost focus on using less of it to do what we need to do, with the extension of our commuter rail system, a variety of taxes and fees to make the driving of internal combustion vehicles more expensive and import duties and policies that make energy-saving and clean energy-producing devices cheaper;
- We should enact mandatory bottle deposit laws and restrictions on the free distribution of disposable shopping bags at stores as relatively easy steps toward the end of a throw-away society;
- Our clean water system should be developed, interconnected and rationalized but neither by privatization and the dispossession with little or no compensation of rural communities, nor by discriminatory distribution policies that would make it another subsidy only for the rich, nor skipping new common sense and commonly agreed rules about water use in a country where climate change is making the resource chronically scarce;
- We need a rural jobs program that creates honorable work at living wages reforesting the country with a mix of trees and ground cover plants that restores wild areas rather than creates temporary cash crops where wildlife will not thrive, creates new coral reefs, renewed mangrove swamps and artificial oyster beds as breeding grounds that will revive the marine food chain, builds new hatcheries for pelagic fish to become part of a regional and global commons, and hires people to guard and maintain all of these works plus the natural assets that we already have; and
- We ought to incite a new sense of pride in a clean and beautiful Panama, a land without throw-away places or people, a country to which people with good taste and healthy social values will flock to visit.
An awfully expensive Earth Day shopping list? Perhaps. But not nearly so expensive as drifting along in the direction we have been going.
Bear in mind…
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