|Moving from growth to sustainability in the TCI|
|Written by Kathleen Wood|
|Thursday, 06 October 2011 10:29|
“Asked if his government felt the need for any measure of restraint upon development, [Chief Minister] Mr. Saunders replied, “We can’t allow it to get out of hand — to develop to a point where serious social problems will be created. Provo has only a small indigenous population, therefore it would not be in our best interests to have development accelerate to a pace where the local people are benefitting less than those coming in.”
No example of successful unlimited growth exists in nature. A deer population breeding out of control soon finds itself diseased and starving. In the body, rampant cell division is a cancer that ultimately kills the organism it infests. A plant that spreads across a landscape, taking over and forcing out others, like the notorious Australian pine, is a nuisance weed.
In all of nature, every species population must achieve equilibrium. To do otherwise is pathology with only one possible outcome — catastrophic collapse.
The Caribbean is littered with the decayed ecosystems and economies of island nations that clung to the same fantasy. In the early 1960s, many Belongers fled the Turks and Caicos Islands to work as labor on Grand Bahama during the development boom on Freeport.
I was in Freeport earlier this month, where the skeletons of buildings constructed during that development frenzy lay abandoned and decrepit. Residents there struggle to make ends meet as their once booming economy is now forced to cater to a cheap cruise ship tourist clientele that shuffles in and out of town at regular shifts to pick through cheap souvenirs crafted in China.
Yet since Honorable Saunders uttered his prophetic words 30 ago, the TCI is basing its entire development strategy on expecting a miracle, magic, God or some other unseen force that will defy the laws of nature and history and allow these islands to go down the same path that others have followed to failure and somehow miraculously succeed.
“Beautiful by nature.” It’s the well-worn national mantra that sells the TCI to the rest of the world. The phrase is so used as to sound almost cliché to the ear, but within the simplicity of the one-liner is profound truth.
Nature also teaches that no organism can exist independently of its ecosystem. For much of the history of these islands, most its people were poor, but they were not impoverished. The bounty provided by the hundreds of square miles of teeming wetlands and coral reefs ensured that food was available, regardless of ability to pay for it, for every resident of these islands.
With few natural resources and a limited land area, the TCI has little to sell other than the rare ecological integrity that has until recently been uncompromised. This small nation has literally banked on it. Foreign investors coming to these shores have set up shop, built hotels and watched their bank balances accrue while unspoiled beachfront land simultaneously became as scarce as an island dodo.
On Provo, Crown land has been disbursed in the past two decades at a dizzying rate. People with ties close to those with hands in the pie got a slice, but for the vast majority of citizens and residents, that privilege has remained out of reach.
All of this has been done while paying lip service to “sustainable development,” but what has taken place on Providenciales is about as far from sustainable as one can get. An economy based entirely on land sales and development will undoubtedly crash when there is no more land to sell.
Furthermore, the land and means of capital, once in private hands, will nourish only those private hands, rather than the entire society it once supported. The only way to gain access to that capital produced by that resource then is to go to work for those who own what once belonged to everyone. People who were once free to earn an honest living from the land no longer have that option. The land is no longer theirs.
Who owns the land? For most of the history of these islands, lines drawn in the sand demarcating the land as yours or mine did not exist. Crown land belonged to everyone and was seen as a reservoir for future generations. Now almost all of the land that once belonged to all belongs to a few individuals. The children of the future will just have to fend for themselves because the current economy based on selling and developing land will have run its inevitable and predictable course.
The reality is that this land must support all who live here. Human and non-human, indigenous, local, expat and Belonger. Bird, plant, fish, Haitian, Canadian, TCI and all the rest.
The TCI is fortunate that much of the ecosystem is still functional, although this baseline is rapidly deteriorating. An economic model that depends on land development is neither economically nor ecologically sustainable.
For years, the people of these islands have been promised prosperity by outside interests that insisted that development would be the answer to all their prayers. Easy money, luxury homes and fast cars loomed in the minds of all, but ultimately, as with all hierarchical economic systems, became available to only a few.
Furthermore, with a very finite inventory of land, building an economy based on the sale and development of this scarce resource is nothing short of insanity. As we have seen on Provo in the last 20 years, this strategy quickly runs out of new beachfront property to develop, and then the house of cards starts to shake.
There is no irony or coincidence that those promoting the development model that has sliced and diced this ecosystem into elite private property are those same individuals who have profited the most from the sale of this natural heritage. This is nothing new. In fact, it is the modus operandi of the free market on a global scale.
Investors move in promising profits and liberty for all and walk away with all the riches in their own pockets, with a local population stunned and wondering when and how they lost their carefree sustainable lifestyles and became wage slaves to corporate masters. While indigenous people bicker among themselves for the scraps thrown down to them, the elite pillagers are laughing all the way to the bank.
Divide and conquer is the oldest trick in the book. Every man fighting to get a piece of the pie for himself loses sight of the fact that he once, along with his community, owned the whole pie and now has nothing to eat.
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TCI Protected Areas Series
The fp is publishing a series of articles on the Turks and Caicos Islands Protected Area System to increase public awareness and respect for the beauty and value of this "beautiful by nature" country.
The authors, marine ecologist Marsha Pardee and terrestrial ecologist Kathleen Wood, are long-time TCI residents and respected scientists in their fields.
Below are links to their articles, plus related news articles, documents and laws.
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- 22/7/10: Protected Areas designations and differences
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Related news articles
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Links to environmental documents and laws